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Wick's Review

Created Mar 04, 2017 01:28PM PST • Edited Feb 24, 2020 07:34PM PST

  1. Quality
  2. Great 4.0

    Behind every successful man is a strong woman, three in the case of John Glenn and the Mercury Seven astronauts — strong black women in fact, smart too, very smart. Hidden Figures smartly tells their tale, a can’t-miss concoction of civil rights, space race and romantic drama. Lots of star power gives it smart charm, not least from Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe as some very likable brainiacs.

    They play Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, stalwarts of NASA triumphs and previously unsung pioneers of the Civil Rights era. Hidden Figures presents them as flesh and blood women, charismatic and courageous in equal measure. The movie feels organic as a result, neither hard-edged or pedantic. The fact that it conveys hard realities and teaches a variety of lessons is a bonus.

    Mostly, it’s a feel-good movie that happens to be largely true, a must-see for history buffs, those interested in the African-American experience, NASA enthusiasts and couples looking for a winning date movie.

  3. Great 4.0

    Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer & Janelle Monáe are delightful as the hidden figures of the movie’s title.

    • Henson – now a big star – first caught my eye jumping offscreen in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Her Katherine Johnson is believably brainy, sweetly womanly and strongly courageous.
    • Spencer is simply one of the best actresses working today, as her Oscar for The Help testifies. She’s got a deeply centered screen presence, which serves her well in portraying Dorothy Vaughan.
    • Monáe – a relative newcomer – is the most glamorous of the three, with a strong presence and sharp wit. Let’s see more of her now that she’s done such a terrific job portraying Mary Jackson.


    • Kevin Costner is always great playing serious characters, here a put-upon NASA exec.
    • Kirsten Dunst is rather wan as a by-the-book supervisor.
    • Jim Parsons disappoints as a chief engineer, though perhaps we’re waiting for Sheldon to burst out.
    • Glen Powell jumps offscreen as the sainted John Glenn. Powell has a great future. Last year he sizzled as the sly charmer Finnegan in Everybody Wants Some!!. Now this.
    • Mahershala Ali jumps offscreen as the Army officer who marries Henson’s Katherine Johnson. Ali had a great 2016, with this role taking a back seat to his Oscar-winning role in Moonlight.
    • Aldis Hodge also made a strong impression as husband to Monáe’s Mary Jackson.
    • Olek Krupa is charming as Mary Jackson’s emigre engineering colleague.
  4. Male Stars Great 4.0
  5. Female Stars Great 4.0
  6. Female Costars Great 4.0
  7. Male Costars Great 4.0
  8. Great 4.0

    Hidden Figures is an old-fashioned film, in the best way possible. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll cheer. Regarding the second of those, I was a chocolate mess during the Johnson’s marriage proposal scene.

    It’s basically a cross between Apollo 13 and The Help, with a dash of The Right Stuff thrown in. This is a terrific recipe, all the more because it reveals an important and fascinating chapter in African-American and NASA history. Whew. Who knew.

    Margot Lee Shetterly and Theodore Melfi deserve the primary credit. She wrote the book, based on her father’s experience working at NASA during the time it covers. He cowrote the screenplay and directed the very polished film.

  9. Direction Great 4.0
  10. Play Great 4.0
  11. Music OK 2.5
  12. Visuals Really Great 4.5
  13. Content
  14. Risqué 1.6
  15. Sex Titillating 1.6
  16. Violence Gentle 1.4
  17. Rudeness Salty 1.9
  18. Glib 1.3

    Hidden Figures alters the timeline of the real story and amps up some areas of conflict, e.g., with segregated bathrooms. Wikipedia documents these reality liberties, even while History vs. Hollywood on Hidden Figures says that the women it profiles lived substantially as the movie shows. Some other characters are composites, but so what.

    John Glenn was too good to be true, but that didn’t make him unreal. And he really did say “Get the girl to check the numbers… If she says the numbers are good… I’m ready to go.” Katherine Jackson did and he became the first American to orbit the earth.

    Reality Observations:

    • “Computer” was the title given to women who did calculations. African-American women who did the job were called “Colored Computers”.
    • Automation – in the form of an early IBM mainframe – had everyone fearing job destruction, when in fact it enabled NASA’s mission while creating better jobs for those talented and ambitious enough to seize them. That dynamic always holds true.
    • Technological initiatives demand meritocracies, then as now. Even Jim Crow segregation couldn’t stand in the way. That’s why economic growth is the best elixir for defeating prejudice.
    • Intact families were the African-American norm during the early-Sixties, as shown in the movie. Great Society programs took hold shortly thereafter, at which time illegitimacy skyrocketed, per the Wikipedia article on African-American family structure.
  19. Circumstantial Glib 1.8
  20. Biological Natural 1.0
  21. Physical Natural 1.0


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