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Hidden Figures

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It’s honestly such a thrill to me, that a movie about three independent, intelligent African-American women, is kicking ass at the box office. And actually toppling “Rogue One”, no less! Plus, it did this with a relatively low budget, while pushing some well-known white actors to the background. I love it. If only it was actually a good movie! Phony, feel-good set-ups, and cartoonish characterizations were unforgivable for me here. And how about a screenplay that demonstrates how bright these women actually are, instead of just constantly telling me how smart they are?! They’ve mainstreamed “Hidden Figures” into a typical, predictable crowd pleaser.

A trio of gifted black women, are hired by NASA’s Space Task Group, for assistance in the early 1960’s “space race”. Taraji P. Hensen is mathematician Katherine Goble Johnson, and she’s a widowed mother of three young children. Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer is mathematician Dorothy Vaughan, and she utters the best line in a tepid screenplay (co-written by Theodore Melfi, who also supplied the flamboyant direction), when she tells white co-worker Vivian Mitchell (Kirsten Dunst) “I know you probably believe that”, in answer to Mitchell’s claim of, “I have nothing against y’all“. And Janelle Monae is sassy engineer Mary Jackson, who goes to court to allow her to attend night classes at an all white school, so that she can complete her engineering degree.

All three of these wonderful performers are just fine, in that they accomplish exactly what the script requires of them. But what a limited script! Scenes of Ms. Hensen running back-and-forth between buildings, because her new location on the complex doesn’t have a ‘colored’ bathroom, is overkilled right up to the point where her boss, Al Harrison (Mr. Costner, also just fine), smashes off the segregating sign with a pipe. “We’re all one color at NASA!” Queue the audience cheers for a scene that I’m certain make certain voters truly feel that they are not actually racist. I know you probably believe that.

But I have a hard time believing, that the artifice of this film, is anywhere near as interesting, as the real story must have been. The filmmakers just gloss it over, and pretty it up, for maximum simplicity, and hammering away at obvious, overdone, “we shall overcome” effectiveness. Even the subplot of Katherine landing new, soldier husband Jim Johnson (Mahershala Ali), is blown up into sickly sweet, insulin shot territory. I bet these ladies were/are (Ms. Johnson is still with us, at 98-years-young) whip-smart. Too bad the filmmakers treated them in such a shrill, silly fashion.

Grade:  C-

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