Directed by Theodore Melfi
It’s been a VERY long time since I was so pleasantly surprised by a Hollywood picture. The trailer promised a saccharin, paint-by-numbers, safe version of an incredible story. The actual film was so much more. Challenging, human, hilarious, important and incredibly well-acted, “Hidden Figures” is…uh…well…”the feel good movie of the holiday season” (feel free to punch me in the face the next time you see me – but it really is).
Documenting the struggles, successes and community of the African-American women employed by NASA during the pioneering days of the US space program as segregated mathematicians, “Hidden Figures” is filled with humor, pathos, suspense and warmth. And while all aspects of the film are more than adequate, it’s the chemistry the leads have to each other that makes it fly.
I have never seen Taraji P. Henson in a role like this. Smart, shy, clever, and fearless, her Katherine is the main force of the film. It’s a bravura performance of a truly heroic figure in our country’s checkered (re: racist) past. And with her every step of the way are the ferociously forward-thinking Octavia Spencer and the uber-gorgeous Janelle Monae, who is the surprise delight of the film. I’ve seen her on stage several times with Prince, and it never occurred to me that such a complete and fine actress was hidden inside that stage persona. She was perfectly cast in “Moonlight” in a small role. After this, however, there will be no more small roles. But as enjoyable as they are individually, it is when they are on screen together that the film really grabs you and takes you for the ride. Melfi has so clearly defined their roles and relation to each other that there is never a false note between them – never…not for a second.
And while we’re talking acting, let’s not forget about the guy we seem to have forgotten about, Kevin Costner. In this later stage of his career, he somehow is more charming, less “act-y”, and more convincing. In this film, especially, he is a the boss you’d love to work for even as he challenges you with the impossible. Jim Parsons plays the heavy…and it’s odd…but he does so convincingly, even if he can’t completely shake off his sitcom persona. And Mahershala Ali (who has officially been in every film and TV series in 2016), is fine – pretty much like he is in everything; believable, easy to watch, but never great.
The direction, photography and pacing are more than adequate for a simple Hollywood family film. And extra kudos to production designer, Wynn Thomas, for creating the most accurate representation of NASA in the early Sixties this side of “The Right Stuff”.
My biggest complaint (and I would bet my house that Melfi had no control over this) was the use of contemporary music throughout. Intermingling hip-hop, orchestral scoring and period-appropriate popular music does nothing to aid our experience of the film, and more than a couple times, threw me right out of the theater.
But this is a tiny complaint that most people won’t be bothered by…and they shouldn’t. “Hidden Figures” is a terrific, informative, and very funny bio-pic. It’s perfect for the family and the performances shouldn’t be missed. Enjoy!
BTW, this trailer has almost nothing to do with the film I saw…just a head’s up:
Written on 1/1/17