Hidden Figures, directed by Theodore Melfi, does a good job in telling the stories of some remarkable women, whose stories have gone unseen. But other than that the film itself is pretty unremarkable; making no real effort to standout from any other biographical film. I actually feel that other than its three main characters, it seems to want to gloss over and demean the work accomplished by everyone at NASA during the time. This review will be an interesting one, as I feel my opinions on the film aren’t going to match up with what many people are touting this film to be. So let’s get to it.
The film tells the true story of Katherine G. Johnson – played by Taraji P. Henson – Dorothy Vaughan – played by Octavia Spencer – and Mary Jackson – played by Janelle Monáe – who were some of the first African-American women to play a crucial role in NASA’s first efforts to get a man into space. They were experts in mathematics, engineering and computers, and along with the other men and women at NASA were able to get America’s space programme to a point of historical success. They also opened the door for women of all races in what was primarily a male orientated work place.
The element to this film that I found to (unsurprisingly) be its strongest point, were the three main characters in which it was focused on. They are all well-defined early on and they are individuals whose story is one of great importance (in the eyes of history) but they are also genuinely charismatic people, whose friendships with one another feels so real, and so full of history itself.
You have a great duel force working for the film; not only is their friendship and banter with one another enjoyable to watch, but them as individuals is compelling from a human aspect. They are all challenged daily in their chosen field of work, and those challenges are perfect for the structure of a film and its structural storytelling. I was interested to learn more about them and the work they were a part of at NASA.
And this is where the element of the film came in that I was sure wasn’t going to work: the balancing of their professional life and their personal life. I feel both were needed to properly make these women feel like people; people who led lives that went beyond the history books. Well, Hidden Figures does a pretty decent job of doing that. Though it wasn’t as detailed as I perhaps would have liked, it did still show them as more than just women who played an integral part at NASA, during a crucial time. Seeing that they had struggles at home, or what it was that they found important beyond the walls of the office, were the things that helped to make them people who you cared about and wanted to invest further in.
But the film does ultimately put the majority of its focus on what these women achieved at NASA (which is fair) and I think it does a fine job of highlighting their integral contributions. Now of course a lot of the math and other such gobbledygook went over my head, but what that did was exemplify just how complicated the work was that they were doing. My inability to understand the complicated equations helped to show me just how difficult the work that they were a part of, was.
But here’s where a problem started to rear its head (for me). Hidden Figures is so intent on highlighting the work that, Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson did, that it almost seems intent on diminishing the work done by anyone else at NASA. If you only went by this films account of the events, then it was solely because of these women that the spacecraft made it into space and everyone else was just there to be an ignorant hurdle, and nothing else. I found it odd, and soon a little insulting, just how in your face the film was with its telling of the events. I understand that the work that these women did was shamefully hidden for many years, but I don’t then think it’s fair to do the same to everyone else, when you take the time to tell their part of the story. The film even says it itself: “We all get there together or we don’t get there at all.” Perhaps that’s a piece of advice that the people working on the film should have kept in mind when constructing and shooting the film.
It all brings me to a place of struggle, when I consider this film overall. On the one hand: the film tells a story about some incredible women, who really did play a big part in changing the course of history. It something I look forward to doing more research on and finding out more (which is probably something the makers of the film are hoping will happen with everyone who goes to see it). But I also can’t disregard the fact that, Hidden Figures is a very plainly done film.
What I mean by that is that I’ve seen quite a few biographical films in my time, and Hidden Figures does nothing, from a film aspect, to make itself standout; static, simple shots, slow, meandering pace, dodgy looking visual effects etc. Other than the main story (and the characters), Hidden Figures is a film that just does not capture the eyes attention. And when I compare it to the other films that have been nominated for best picture (like it has been) I see a list of films that completely overshadow this one in every way. It may be cruel to say, but Hidden Figures – when considered from a film stand point – is extremely unremarkable and offers nothing of worthy note (barring the characters and their story of course) – which then brings me to my recommendation.
My recommendation will come with a caveat. If the subject of the film interests you, then definitely make the effort to see this film. But if you’re looking for anything more, then I can’t say this is a film worth your time. Instead, I’d suggest learning about, Katherine G. Johnson’s, Dorothy Vaughan’s and Mary Jackson’s story by doing your own research. Absolutely take the time to learn about these women; just don’t necessarily feel that this film is the best/only way to do it.
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