Saturday, 21 January 2017

Hidden Figures: Film Review

Hidden Figures: Film Review

Cast: Taraji P Henson, Olivia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner, Jim Parsons, Kirsten Dunst
Director: Theodore Melfi

The space race and the fight against racism combine in this based on a true story wannabe feel-good flick from the director of St Vincent.

It's the story of Katherine G Johnson (Empire star Taraji P Henson), Dorothy Vaughn (The Help's Octavia Spencer) and feisty activist Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae), three black women working in the predominantly white NASA space programme.

Johnson's a numbers genius (as an early flashback to her childhood heavily sign posts) and when she's assigned to the unit run by Al Harrison (Costner) she inadvertently puts the cat among the pigeons. Not least because of her colour, but also because The Big Bang Theory's Jim Parsons' sneery Paul Stafford is running the team and doubts the veracity of her maths.

Equally, Vaughn's desperate to be given the chance to become a supervisor and sassy Jackson's keen to become an engineer - but both face discrimination, prejudice and societal expectations as threats.

With Octavia Spencer already nominated for a Golden Globe award  the film's trajectory is on the up, even if parts of its execution remain firmly grounded in mawkish predictable civil rights sentimentality.

Despite a relative career best turn from Kevin Costner as the boss of the unit charged with getting astronaut John Glenn into space to keep up with the Russians and the Sputnik space programme, most of the rest of the cast give solid performances that are dictated to unfortunately slide into stereotypes as the civil rights led story plays out.

From segregation to romance and racism within the workplace, all the tenets of this style of Lifetime dramas are here and everything orchestrates to an entirely predictable conclusion that wrings out every ounce of crowd-pleasing eyes weeping obviousness as you'd expect. The second half of the film aims for tearducts, but with the outside work elements not faring as well as the space race interest and story, they fall flat and fail to be fully moved.

There's no denying the story here and the struggle being real, but the TV movie style execution of it means Hidden Figures is more a case of a story that needs to be told, rather than one that needs to be told well.

It's an important distinction for this piece about the hidden struggle and breakthrough of the women and while the film may hold stratospheric aspirations, the race for the glass ceiling never quite reaches the heights of anything other than spectacularly solid and occasionally manipulative.

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