‘Hidden Figures’ a Safe, by-the-Numbers Biopic

hidden-figuresIf nothing else, I got a slight chuckle here from the mini “Moonlight” reunion between Mahershala Ali and Janelle Monáe.

“Hidden Figures” is the true story of the group of African-American females who helped NASA with the mathematics leading up John Glenn’s 1962 orbit of Earth. Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst and Jim Parsons all star as Theodore Melfi directs and co-writes.

This is one of those crowd-pleasing films that are exactly what the trailers paint it as, and you will get out of it what you want. If all you demand is to feel good and do a mini-fist pump in your recliner as a suppressed individual sticks it to the man, great. If you want more from your films then this still holds up, although there are certainly some flaws.

The thing that works most here is the cast, full of Oscar, Golden Globe and Emmy winners. The leading trio all offer different things to the film, with Henson being the smart underdog, Spencer bringing the stand-up-for-herself confidence and Monáe acting as comic relief. Monáe’s character is the most enjoyable, often bringing the charm and sarcastic wit but also has her own story of being the first woman of color to become an engineer at NASA.

The film’s costumes and sets are also very well-done, engrossing you into the world of 1960s Virginia. From cars and dresses to rooms full of IBM machines that could do less then than our phones can today, it almost feels like a film that was made during the 60s.

The film’s script is one of its biggest strengths and weaknesses, similar to Melfi’s debut film, “St. Vincent.” There are plenty of feel-good moments and clever bits of dialogue, but each scene feels calculated and by-the-numbers so it knocks on the flow and impact of the film as a whole. There are also some points that feel rushed, whether it is a personal life triumph or the NASA scientists struggling to figure out a crucial equation only to solve it in the very same scene.

“Hidden Figures” is an old-fashion crowd-pleaser that is harmless but isn’t as interesting or engaging as it probably should have been, given its important story and impressive cast. I enjoyed the film enough for what it was and the cast all does a good job making you feel good, and if that sounds like enough to entice you then check this one out; just know there isn’t anything new or groundbreaking to be found.

Critics Rating: 6/10

20th Century Fox

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