Movie Review: ‘Hidden Figures’ Is An Uplifting Tale

By Colin Covert
Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Adapted from Margot Lee Shetterly’s nonfiction bestseller, “Hidden Figures” is a rare glimpse at black women making crucial contributions to the U.S. space program in the early 1960s.

Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

There’s no requirement for a movie to be unique or groundbreaking in order to succeed. “Hidden Figures” tells a singular story in textbook fashion, creating a conventional, feel-good, part-fictional history lesson that would fit in any high school.

Adapted from Margot Lee Shetterly’s nonfiction bestseller, this is a rare glimpse at black women making crucial contributions to the U.S. space program in the early 1960s. It is filmmaking as mainstream as meatloaf. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Director Theodore Melfi made his sentimental drama formulaic and pleasurable in hopes that general audiences would eat it up.

The film offers an excellent ensemble cast giving wonderful performances. Leading ladies Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae are pure awards-bait. They give interesting performances as Katherine Johnson (Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Monae), outstanding but historically ignored math and physics wizards at Virginia’s Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory.

Their pre-IBM contributions as “human computers” for NASA were essential to the program’s success. With slide rules, pencils and adding machines, they were personally responsible for putting John Glenn in orbit in 1962, navigating the ship, and bringing him safely back to Earth.

The film’s greatest asset may be Kevin Costner. He’s excellent as a composite character, doing the non-actorish work he does best. He keeps his craft authentic, naturalistic and all but invisible as a fair-minded NASA engineering boss who respects technical talent and detests any Jim Crow prejudice that could trip up his section’s role in the space race. The group chemistry is charming and inspirational.

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