Hidden Figures tells the story of a truly inspirational moment in history. But does the film do it justice?
I have to admit: I had a really hard time writing a review for Hidden Figures.
I just couldn’t get my head around it. Not that it was a difficult movie to understand; I simply had too many issues justifying any criticisms I had for this film.
And after a few days I realised the main problem I had with was that it was PG. It’s so PG, it makes Labyrinth look like it should have gotten an MA rating. It’s so PG that if there was an N in the middle it would be an abbreviation for Papua New Guinea. It’s so PG, it couldn’t take any of its more serious themes to a place where it becomes good story-telling, because then the target audience – children – would just miss out. But more on that later…
Hidden Figures plot.
Set in the still segregated state of Virginia, Hidden Figures follows three black women’s rise through the ranks of NASA for the upcoming ‘Friendship 7’ flight, despite all the odds being stacked against them. Based on historical events, we have Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) and Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) proving that they deserve to be at the top, simply by showing how brilliance doesn’t have a colour.
The beginning beautifully shows where everyone’s values lie in 1960s USA. We have our trio of heroes in the middle of a deserted road, trying to fix their car, when out of nowhere, the police arrive for a friendly hand.
Context for some of our younger readers: If you happened to be black in a segregated state before the Civil Rights Movement, and you were unfortunate enough to run into the police, you probably weren’t in for a good time.
So we have our stereotypical, slightly overweight American police officer, almost interrogating our group Vaughan, Jackson and Johnson – and the scene is just perfectly set. We immediately understand how tough it is for these women to go anywhere without eyebrows being raised. So it’d be hard not to be inspired when we see these women, in a society which is not designed to their benefit, rise above the boundaries laid before them.
Let’s talk themes.
The themes in Hidden Figures are solid, but the method in which they’re delivered isn’t anything special. The film deals with racism, sexism, love, family, but at its core, it’s all about overcoming societal confines.
That being said, the theme of racism is not handled as well in comparison to films like Selma or The Butler, which had a M rating rather than just a PG. Essentially, if movies were like athletes in the Olympics, Hidden Figures would have competed in every event, but failed to get gold in the events they most desperately tried to win. And the reason it failed to get the gold is because it’s a family movie.
For the target audience to be in the room, mainly children, who could enjoy a fun but somewhat serious film and be inspired by these fantastic heroes, it couldn’t have been too heavy. The result is an almost tame critique of a complex and disturbing period in history.
What this film does do best however is get its family oriented elements right on the mark. Whenever you have Vaughan, Jackson and Johnson in the same room, you feel as if they’ve been friends for years. Their rapport is phenomenal, and their banter is on bloody point. Even better, when any of our protagonists are with the families, you can feel the love seeping from the screen, and it just feels real. Hell, at some points it doesn’t even feel like acting.
And that’s why it bloody irks me to see such a weak supporting cast (except for good ol Kevin Costner, love you Kevo). You have this entire ensemble of decent actors like Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons, Olek Krupa, Kurt Krause, who just come out like my wholegrain toast: bland. Their characters are all incredibly one-dimensional, I don’t end up liking them any more at the end of the film than I do at the beginning. And I swear they have one face for all occasions.
So, what’s the final conclusion on Hidden Figures?
Ultimately Hidden Figures is an inspirational film. You really get the sense that within the halls of NASA, the boundaries of human accomplishment are being forcibly moved. And that gets reverberated in the storylines of all our protagonists. This film is about seeing what is “Just the way it is” (that line was used five times, I counted) and completely disregarding it.
It’s when Dorothy Vaughan forces herself to get that manager promotion that she bloody deserves, dammit Vivian! It’s when Mary Jackson changes the judicial system to study in a high school so she can become an engineer. It’s when Katherine Johnson literally comes up with new mathematics in order to make space-flight a possibility. This film refuses to accept what is laid down as reality. It questions it and redefines it, not only on Earth, but also in Space.
So if you’re a movie snob like me who literally frothed over Whiplash, then message me and I’ll give you a page’s worth of film or television to watch alone. But if you want to get the entire family to go watch a fun movie, based in history – this is definitely the movie I’d catch in theatres before it’s too late.
My Rating: 7/10