Thu | Feb 20, 2020

Hidden Figures dares too little

Published:Monday | February 6, 2017 | 12:00 AMDamian Levy
Taraji P. Henson (second row, left), Octavia Spencer (first row, centre) and Janelle Monae (second row, right) in the movie Hidden Figures.
Taraji P. Henson as Katherine Johnson with male actors in a scene from Hidden Figures.

I wasn't around for the 1960s, but everything I've seen from the time period confirms two things. It was a great time for the USA's National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), but a bad time for black people.

Worse if you were a black woman.

Never do you get a film that combines the two stories. That's what you find in Hidden Figures, a story that prominently features not one, not two, but three black women scientists working on the problem of getting a man into space.

Like many films of this type, Hidden Figures is ripe with embellishment, ways to make the movie less like real-life and more like a story. The trouble with this film is that it takes it a tad bit too far. Often, the harsh realities of living in a society where you're thought of as lesser is played down. Take for instance the numerous times Taraji P. Henson's character must run back and forth to the only bathroom designated for "coloured folk". It's gallingly portrayed as comedic and may as well have been set to Yakety Sax.

That's not to say that there aren't gut-punching moments in the film, but they're very easy to recover from. The best parts of the movie are, in fact, the three main characters. Taraji P Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae are each captivating by themselves. Combined, they're mesmerising. They interact naturally and they give the movie authenticity. They sell the film's best moments and elevate it to be the feel good, inspirational, Sunday afternoon movie Hidden Figures is.

There's an unfortunate safety to Hidden Figures. The film is never as bold as the stories it's telling, thus it feels a little hollow. There are moments when it seems to perfectly grasp the tone, but those moments are far too few. I almost wish those moments didn't exist. Because they do, I saw inklings of the great movie Hidden Figures could have been, rather than the decent one that it is.

Then again, I suppose I should be happy I got the movie at all.

Rating: Half Price