I will be honest, as a person with a sense of right and wrong and a decent knowledge of American history, I wanted to like this movie, as I did with “based on a real story” movies from the U.S. Civll Rights era like Remember the Titans and Glory Road before it. And it didn’t disappoint. The great thing about a movie where the audience knows the conflict going in is that you can spend less time creating conflict and more time paying it off. Hidden Figures does that, in my opinion, and does it well.
While Katherine (Taraji P. Henson) is the centerpiece, the payoffs come in many forms for all three female leads in their personal and professional lives. All of them bring smiles. And the dialogue brings enough laughs to keep it from being overly sentimental. Admittedly, a lot of racial dialogue works because the audience has 55 years of history knowledge to find it funny now (even if the truth behind the jokes has never been funny). There really isn’t a scene in the movie that drags or feels out of place. The highlights of the movie to me are a recurring joke/profound point about having to go half a mile to the “colored” bathroom and an impassioned speech by Katherine about it in the middle of the film. The idea of a man being in space isn’t something that interests me quite like sports do (which says a lot about me for sure), so the climax isn’t super intense but it’s still very satisfying.
Acting performances are great across the board. The three leads (Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe) are all strong and determined women all facing the gargantuan obstacle of being black women in professional 1960’s America. Yet they are distinct enough from each other in their roles and individual demons of prejudice they must slay. Kevin Costner is very likable as Al Harrison and I haven’t seen him in a role I liked this much in a long time. Mahershala Ali is outstanding as Col. Jim Johnson and I want to see more of his work as a result. Jim Parsons is thankfully nothing like Sheldon Cooper in his role (he’s very subdued) because he needed to cede to the women while on screen to make the plot work. It’s about them, not the other NASA geniuses and their neurotic quirks. Even Glen Powell in a more minor role as astronaut John Glenn is very cool and the way he reacts to the women in the movie is a nice touch.
Overall, I enjoyed it thoroughly, will see it again and hope that its high quality as a movie helps it accomplish its goal of inspiring people who may need a nudge into taking the road untraveled, especially on issues of justice. The real world is normally harsher than movies, but life can indubitably imitate art, as it imitates life, especially telling its stories.