Biographies are weird. They should generally be saved for people who have changed the world or done great things in their life. But what about those great people who people don’t know about? Those are the really important biographies that we are missing and we don’t know we are missing. We don’t need another Biographical film about Steve Jobs now, for instance. And we didn’t know we needed a biographical musical on Alexander Hamilton.
And that is where Hidden Figures comes in. Celebrating the lives of a few individuals who you didn’t know you should know.
And with this regular introduction basically done, I will note this is the second year in a row with a very Pro-NASA movie, along with last years The Martian.
They wouldn’t be legally allowed to watch The Martian on a TV that small. It just wouldn’t be right.
Hidden Figures is about three women, all working for NASA at the Langley Air Force Base in Virginia. Katherine Goble (Taraji P. Henson) is our lead, a brilliant mathematician since she was a kid but held back by her gender and skin color. There is also Mary Johnson (Janelle Monáe), another brilliant mind. Both of them are Computers, people who check the math and solve longer problems for the “Real engineers” and workers at NASA, basically a bunch of white men.
There is also Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), a computer herself, but basically running the entire colored department without getting the job title of supervisor. Three women, all hoping to do something better.
Katherine gets a temporary assignment to be a computer for the Space Task Group, a big room full of white male engineers trying to figure out how to predict where their capsules will land AND how to get their rocket out of orbit to get their astronaut at a predicted landing. It is led by Al Harrison (Kevin Costner) who barely has time for the head engineer (Jim Parsons), let alone a colored women. Spoiler, she ends up doing the most important math.
Mary faces trying to apply to become a real engineer, but requiring to take classes offered only at an all male school, so she has to go to courts to fight for the right to take the classes. And she has a husband (Aldis Hodge) who doesn’t always agree with the fights she chooses.
And Dorothy, she really wants to be a supervisor, but her actual boss (Kirsten Dunst) continues to seemingly thwart her on every turn. Dorothy is also worried about their whole division being canned when the IBM comes online and does the computing for them. So she sets out to learn Fortran and become an IBM operator.
Also featuring Mahershala Ali as a love interest to Katherine and Glen Powell is John Glenn. Don’t get confused.
I couldn’t handle Chad Radwell from Scream Queens playing a serious role.
Hidden Figures could be renamed “That’s Just The Way Things Are: The Movie” and really drive the same point home. I lost track of how many times a white OR black character uttered something similar but it was definitely more than five times. They wanted to make sure you know these women were facing struggles, there were many opportunities against them, and it took a long, long time in the movie before they started to get any wins.
It could be coming from a state of modern day feelings, but it really dragged down the film in my mind. Making a few quick references would have been fine. But it just felt like it was piling on without letting you escape, which may have been the point, to give that experience. It just made for a less enjoyable film.
Focusing on more than just Katherine was a good idea, or else the film would have felt very repetitive. The other two plot lines gave a nice break to that, giving us something different to focus on to keep the movie from staying stagnant. Henson truly does change during in her role, playing something completely off character for her. She does a great job, but at the same time, she does a few stereotypical nerd things too many times. Including pressing her glasses back up her nose after doing something particularly impressive math wise, this happens again, at least three times.
Hidden Figures tells an important story. It highlights three women that should be known. But it gets bogged down in other messes without truly ever reaching any full potential.
2 out of 4.