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Hidden Figures

The Biopic genre is a fun and interesting one to watch because I'm getting to learn about a person, group, or piece of history that I didn't know about before. So many different stories, voices and viewpoints to hear from. Even better, it encourages me to find out more about them.

Despite certain changes for dramatic purposes, when done well, the strong stories and the amazing real life characters are still there to experience. As a result, there are so many great biopics to choose from: Apollo 13Remember the TitansLawrence of ArabiaRush, The King's Speech, etc.

Its safe to say that Hidden Figures, about several African American NASA employees and their crucial efforts that helped get John Glenn into orbit and eventually men on the moon, is a worthy addition to this list.

Starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae as mathematicians Katherine Johnson,  Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, the film covers their rise from members of the "West Area Computers" group at Langley Research Center to their respective roles that made history: Jackson joining the all white, male Flight Research Division, Vaughan becoming the supervisor of the group in charge of working with the new IBM supercomputers, and Jackson becoming a flight engineer, and all the obstacles that they had to overcome. and how they used scientific knowledge and education to do so, an aspect that I really loved.

There's an old fashioned feel to the film, both in visual style and theme. Its the kind of film that one might be shown in class during school: a film that views history through more innocent eyes. Something like To Kill A Mockingbird or Remember the Titans. While the film does not have the bite of those films or show the more brutal elements of that era like Selma or the non-fiction The Help, it still holds the same kind of emotional impact as those films because it fully fleshes out those women as characters, both in personality and intelligence and shows the difficulties and tense atmosphere both in work and out of work that they had to deal with,

One such aspect, Johnson having to cross campus every day just to use the colored bathrooms is played for laughs, but at the same time, is built up for a very satisfying and emotionally cringe worthy payoff, when she emotionally explodes when criticized for always being away from her desk.

It shies away from the violence, but comes in full force with the emotion.

The film is also well cast, each actor giving good energy and finesse, but also warmth and humor to their characters, especially Glen Powell as a confident, friendly John Glenn. It was also great to see actors that I haven't seen in a while like Kevin Costner and Kirsten Dunst again and they do a great job as always.

Fault wise, the issues I had with Hidden Figures are rather moderate but still strong enough that the film would be even stronger if they were fixed. The first fault being that while we do spend a lot of time getting to know these characters very well, both at work and at home, it felt like there was too much of them at home at times and not quite enough times at work, but the times at work were strong and satisfying enough, that I'm glad to overlook it. The second fault is with the character of Paul Stafford, the Flight Research Division's second in command, as played by The Big Bang Theory's Jim Parsons, it doesn't feel like there's enough personality or purpose to the character other than to be given orders and to be an obstacle for Johnson, which is disappointing because since he's a co-worker  of the Johnson character, his dynamic with her could be a lot more antagonistic, or dynamic, or funny in a really engaging, memorable way and it would add more to his emotional arc as well.

The third fault I had was that while Johnson, Vaughan, and Jackson have a good balance to each of their arcs, it feels like Jackson's arc ends a little bit early and as a result, she does not get a visual satisfying payoff of herself working as an engineer at the end, like it shows Johnson in the Flight Research Division and Vaughan working with the supercomputers, and I found that a bit distracting and a little emotionally unsatisfying.

The fourth and final fault is rather minor and more of a nitpick, but some of the editing in the opening shots felt a bit wonky or weirdly paced as well, which threw me off for a second, but lI was able to quickly overlook it.
Overall, despite these faults, Hidden Figures is still a great historical biopic, upbeat and well made. I hope it is eventually shown in schools and many families see it with their kids because I bet it will definitely inspire kids to become interested in science and education as well as following their dreams/reaching a goal that seems out of reach.

I definitely say see it!

4.5 Stars out of 5.


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