Hidden Figures (2016) Review: Far Too Light
I wasn’t around for the 1960s, but everything I’ve seen from the time period confirms two things. It was a great time for NASA, but a bad time for black people. Worse if you were a black woman. Never do you get a film that combines the two stories. That’s what you find with ‘Hidden Figures’. A story that prominently features not one, not two, but three black women. Scientists working on the problem of getting a man into space.
Like many films of this type, ‘Hidden Figures’ is ripe with embellishment. Ways to make the movie less like real life, and more like a story. The trouble with this film is, it takes it a tad bit too far. Often the harsh realities of living in a society where you’re thought of as lesser are played down. Take for instance the numerous times Taraji P. Henson’s character must run back and forth to the only bathroom designated for “coloured folk”. It’s gallingly portrayed as comedic, and may as well have been set to ‘Yakety Sax’
For the moments that do take the time period to task, it’s a harmful revisioning. In the world of ‘Hidden Figures’, all that needed to happen to solve racism, is a temper tantrum in an office full of white men, appalled and astounded at the way black people are treated. It’s especially unsettling when the film reminds you of real life events that occurred around the time period. The film wants to say that when face to face with the oppressed, the oppressors would see the error of their ways. Light the fire. Sing Kumbaya. Roll credits.
That’s not to say that there aren’t gut-punching moments in the film, but they’re very easy to recover from. The best parts of the movie are in fact the 3 main characters. Taraji P Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae are each captivating by themselves. Combined they’re mesmerizing. They interact naturally, and they give the movie authenticity. They sell the film’s best moments and elevate it to be the feel good, inspirational, Sunday afternoon movie that it is.
I particularly liked the way the characters interacted with their own worlds. The way they battled against “the way things are” in their own homes had the best moments of the film. Watching Octavia Spencer teach her sons the difference between “right” and “right now” is a hard scene to screw up. There’s not much to say about the male actors of the film, which is a point in the film’s favour. If Hidden Figures were a Superhero movie, Mahershala Ali would be the crying damsel in distress.
There’s an unfortunate safety to ‘Hidden Figures’. The film is never as bold as the stories it’s telling. Thus, it feels a little hollow. There are moments when it seems to perfectly grasp the tone, but those moments are far too few. I almost wish those moments didn’t exist. Because they do, I saw inklings of the great movie ‘Hidden Figures’ could have been, rather than the decent one that it is. Then again, I suppose I should be happy I got the movie at all.
Rating: Half Price