Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Hidden Figures Is A Total Charmer Of A Movie With A Strong Cast

When ya think about it for even a microsecond, the achievements in space exploration done by NASA truly are incredible, some of the best accomplishments done by our species in the 21st century. We've been probing heretofore unknown territories, truly going, to quote Star Trek, "where no man has gone before". Tragically, NASA has seen massive budget cuts and what not in the decades past but Hidden Figures takes place in an era where we were all invested in NASA on a patriotic level, where it's accomplishments were simultaneously demonstrations of what kind of glorious achievements our country could grasp.

Just as NASA was attempting to break boundaries on how human beings could leave planet Earth all together, the three African-American women who are our lead characters in Hidden Figures were also pushing forward for progress by daring to enter fields of work at NASA previously only occupied by white males. There's Katherine (Taraji P. Henson), a mathematical genius whose intellect could prove vital to getting any astronaut off the ground, Dorothy (Octavia Spencer), a person desperate to garner the work-place title of supervisor that she's more than earned and the boisterous Mary (Janelle Monae), whose trying to get the basic education requirements to become an engineer.

It's interesting to examine the very harsh realities facing people of color in the 1960's and placing the space race as a backdrop to it. Just as people were becoming enamored with the seemingly limitless possibilities of the future that space travel could provide, millions of Americans were being held back by societal prejudices as old as time itself only because of the color of their skin. And yet, the three leads of the movie had the courage to stand up and follow their ambitions, breaking societal norms in the process. That's the kind of thematic backbone to a story you'd really need to be a Neil Breen/Zack Snyder level filmmaker to screw up, and thankfully, director Ted Melfi and his team have delivered this true life story in a most satisfying fashion.

Maybe the best asset of Hidden Figures as a whole is the casting, which does wonders for making our three lead characters so interesting and fun to watch. Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae are all introduced in an opening scene with them (well, really only Spencer's character) trying to deal with a car on the side of the road and it's actually a really well-done sequence for introducing the chemistry these three have when bouncing off each other. You get to see their individual personalities shine out in their interactions with one and another as Dorothy attempts to get their vehicle working again while the arrival of a white male police officer whose immediately suspicious of the trio reinforces the kind of racially-driven muck our three leads, as well as people of color as a whole, have to put up with just because they exist.

From there, we get to see them slowly but surely climb the ladder at their respective professions, and once again, this is where the talented actors get to really leave their mark. Henson has stalwart grit and determination to spare even in her most quiet moments, Spencer has a charming authoritative persona and scene-stealer Monae gets some of the biggest laughs and cheer-worthy moments as Mary. The cinematography and editing aren't quite as strong as the actors they're visually depicting, not because they're outright bad, far from it, they just come off as more bog-standard compared to some of the sharper writing and acting choices found in Hidden Figures.

Speaking of the writing, the script does have its problems, including some overly predictable sequences and a length that runs overlong due to some more immaterial plot digressions such as a sweet but kinda extraneous romantic subplot involving Katherine and a character played by Mahershala Ali. that being, that same screenplay does do a good job of building up the lead trio's individual struggles and makes the smart play to not use the films mostly uplifting atmosphere to give the film an overt vibe that suggests, because this story is set in the past, racism is also a thing of the past, something many other inspirational dramas dealing with the weighty topic of race in America are prone to doing. Thankfully, Hidden Figures is much smarter than that, instead going for more realistic portrayals of brave human beings standing strong and showing courage in the face of courage. Just try and not have a smile on your face during it.

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