Hidden Figures is the perfect sort of feel good movie for the holiday season, a fruitful combination of an intriguing scientific event with an important message about racial prejudice. The film tells the story of three African American women, Katherine (Taraji B. Henson), Dorothy (Octavia Spencer), and Mary (Janelle Monae) who calculate the math for NASA’s space missions. It’s hardly a breakthrough or original exploration of structural inequality, but it’s a great true story with some great performances.
All three lead performances are excellent, with Taraji B. Henson’s heartfelt and sensitive performance giving the film a great deal of heart. However, it’s the sassy side role from Janelle Monae, who’s role as the engineer Mary is the standout of the film, and worthy of an Academy Award nomination. Great side roles include Kevin Costner as a stern but level headed NASA head who helps combat the segregation within the company, Mahershela Ali as a war veteran, and Glen Powell as the real life hero John Glenn. These roles help populate the film, but it’s these women and their story that is front and center.
The film isn’t saying anything new about the terrible nature of segregation, but it’s depiction is not preachy, and has a great message about how the nature of segregation impedes progress. Even more entertaining is the intriguing behind the scenes story about the NASA flights, which depicts the scientific progress in a way that appeals to ordinary viewers. Maybe Hidden Figures is more relevant than it may have intended, but it’s a highly watchable film with some of the year’s best performances. Grade: B