Meet the women you don’t know, behind the mission you do.
Hey guys! So I saw this movie last night and I really wanted to let you guys know what I thought about it, since I haven’t been posting any book reviews lately. (I’ve been reading a massive biography on Washington and while it’s excellent, it’s taking forever.) So in case you were curious, let’s talk about Hidden Figures.
The year is 1961 and the United States has been beaten in the Space Race. Sputnik has gone into orbit while America can’t even get a rocket off the ground without it burning up. What NASA needs most comes in the form of three African American female geniuses. These women are “human computers” who have to calculate the trajectory of flight patterns to ensure that the lives of the first astronauts are safe. (Looking at you, John Glenn.) Together, these three will change the nation, one step at a time.
A little background on the women: we mostly follow Katherine Goble (Taraji P. Henson), a super computer of the highest caliber. Her friend Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) acts something like a supervisor to the women of the West Computing Group (which is where these women worked, separated from the rest of NASA). Finally, we have Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae), who was determined to be an engineer, despite all of the legal hoops she had to jump through. We good? Because now I’m going to start breaking down their performances.
Henson, I thought, did a fabulous job as Katherine. Katherine has this dichotomy of wanting to rise through the ranks at NASA because she enjoys her work and it’s worthwhile, but she’s also terrified that one wrong step is going to cost her her job. I mean, they basically tell her right before she starts that her new boss Al Harrison (Kevin Costner) has a high turnover rate with “computers”. Also, this is 1961 and the height of segregation and discrimination. Which also plays a large role in this movie. But Henson does a nice job of playing Katherine as an intelligent, hardworking single mom.
Spencer’s acting was, as always, fantastic as Dorothy Vaughan. Vaughan has a bit of desperation to her character at the beginning, since she is more or less in charge of a group of 30 women who could be fired at any moment for no reason. But she turns that desperation into determination and tenacity, which was fantastically done with Spencer’s trademark realism and tongue-in-cheek comeuppance for those who stand against her. Trust me, you did not want to get on Dorothy’s bad side. It was a delight to watch.
Perhaps the most interesting character, though, was Janelle Monae’s Mary. Whereas Katherine and Dorothy were more reserved and more cautious when dealing with bosses and segregation, Mary was like a bull charging through the gate. She was gutsy and funny, saying what was on her mind when the others wouldn’t. I really like that character trait, and Monae’s performance was just so endearing.
The supporting cast also had a lot of offer. I thought Costner’s performance was great as a demanding, exacting boss who didn’t care who did the work so long as it got done quickly and correctly. He had little patience for segregation if it meant slowing down the numbers he needed to ensure that men stayed alive in space. There were also minor roles by Jim Parsons and Kirsten Dunst, but I thought those felt a little flat. I was hoping for more out of Parsons especially, but he’s basically been typecast because of his role as Sheldon Cooper in The Big Bang Theory. He’s basically Sheldon but with no character growth.
I really enjoyed the plot as well. It managed to weave together so many elements in a way that felt natural and interesting. Not only were we looking at NASA and the Space Race to get men like John Glenn and Alan Shepard into space safely, but we follow elements of the Civil Rights movement, Katherine’s private life with her three daughters, Dorothy’s workplace ambition to make herself and her girls relevant, and Mary’s dream to become an engineer. I mean, this is a lot to follow in a 2 hour movie, but the movie did a nice job with it. Obviously, the NASA part is the crux of it all, but it was really nice to see the other elements as well.
This is basically a feel-good movie. Obviously, though, not everything is happy and light, though. There were moments in the theater where I was tense or sitting on the edge of my seat. (There were even times when the audience did a collective “ooohhh”.) But there are laugh-out-loud funny parts and parts that deserve a chuckle or a smirk. It’s got drama with a bit of comedy, but it’s mostly uplifting. And, being a PG rated movie, it’s great for all age levels. (They only curse twice in the whole movie.)
I really enjoyed this. This is definitely worth seeing if you get the chance.