Hidden Figures

2016 math movie

Rating: 16/20 (Jen: 20/20)

Plot: A trio of mathematicians help John Glenn fly around Earth a few times and then land safely in the ocean.

"Here at NASA, we all pee the same color."

The movie does a great job--other than some odd musical choices (even though I will say that I think I liked the soundtrack quite a bit)--of putting you in a time and place where the black and female parts of these characters really mattered. Actually, it probably still matters to a lot of people. Anyway, there's a barely perceivable clash in the early-to-mid-60s in which this takes place, a clash between some of that 1950's innocence that was still kicking and the darker side of Americana that embarrassingly justified not sharing rights guaranteed by the Constitution with everybody in the country. At the same time, there's a third force--the fear of Communism--that's muddying everything up. It's a fascinating time in our history, and you just know there are countless similar stories about similar remarkable human beings waiting to be told.

When I first saw previews for this, I expected it to be a little boring. It also looked like a made-for-television production. It's neither one of those. The storytelling is really well paced, the script allows these vibrant characters to show a little humor, and there are some moments that manage to be tense even though everybody watching this probably knows that John Glenn survives that trip into space.

What I loved the most about this is how the characters are allowed to either fight or grow. Sure, it seems like there's an awfully lot of Hollywood historical reconstruction going on here. You just know that some of the "history" here is rewritten because it makes for a better story. But it doesn't matter because it's a great story, and the story needs to know about figures who are hidden in our history. Hey, wait a second! I just got the meaning of the film's title! Back to the characters. The three leads are shown fighting so hard for what comes so much more easily for people with similar talents, and although it's obvious the struggles hurt them, the movie doesn't spend much time having them complain about anything. It also doesn't hide their emotions though. And other characters--Kirsten Dunst, Kevin Costner, and the irritating Jim Parsons--are wonderfully and realistically dynamic.

An aside: I think Kevin Costner should only be allowed to make movies that take place in the 60s from now on.

Janelle Monae, Taraji P. Henson, and Octavia Spencer are terrific as the trio of STEM geniuses. Their rapport is evident early on in a scene where they're riding to work together, and then when they're forced to act independently of each other, they drive every single scene they're in. They're three characters who are so easy to root for, not just because they're extremely likable and extremely qualified individuals but because of their importance historically in the movie's setting and in today's climate when somebody like Trump can become president.

In a time when these sort of "based on feel-good true story" movies are all over the place, it's probably hard to make one that stands out and really feels relevant. Hidden Figures succeeds in doing just that.

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