Hidden Figures is a film directed by Theodore Melfi and based on a book of the same name written by Margot Lee Shetterly. This is only the second film that Melfi has directed, the first being St. Vincent, which I admittedly have not heard of until now or did not remember. However, looking at the IMDB page of both of these films should clue you into one thing; that Melfi seems to enjoy making films with a feel-good aspect to them.
To some, this seems appealing. To me, however, this was a concern. Being a heartless cynic, it’s difficult for me to connect with these types of films, and I often find myself rolling my eyes at the cheese-fests they usually produce, whereas my friends tend to clutch each other and sob. Nevertheless, I thought that Hidden Figures would have a good story to tell, so I pressed onward.
So, what was the result?
As I had hoped, this film does indeed have a great story to tell. The women in this story have to face both big and small obstacles in every waking moment of their lives, yet they persevere and make huge marks in this very important time of human history. There is no other story that deserves to make you “feel-good” better than the overcoming impossible odds story. If these women don’t motivate and encourage you in some way, then I’d say you’re about as lazy a cat…. that’s it, I don’t have anything else. Cats just suck.
My score does not reflect the potential power this story could carry though. As I mentioned earlier, there are still a lot of elements that seem very forced and are indeed, very cheesy. Thankfully, this story only serves cheese as an appetizer, as most of it is contained within the first 30 minutes of the film.
The other thing that hurt this story’s score is how damn long the movie is. While 2 hours and 7 minutes isn’t that long, there are a lot of scenes that seem repetitive, especially in the 2nd act, and you wish the film would just get on with it. There is a good hunk of this story that is simply too slow and drawn out.
Most of the performers in this film do a great job. I suspect Taraji P. Henson will receive a few nominations for her role as Katherine Johnson. Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe are also great for the most part in their supporting roles. Kevin Costner, while not quite at his peak, is good enough to fulfill his role. While everyone suffers from a few dumb lines here and there, no one stands out as bad… with one exception. I’d like to apologize ahead of time to anyone that watches a certain television series, but I cannot for the life of me understand why people like Jim Parsons. I can’t stand to watch his bird-lizard-person-like facial expressions, and I especially can’t stand his unbelievably annoying voice. I have only God to thank that they did not give his character a lot of lines or try to make him be funny.
Where Melfi stands out as a director is his use of space. The scenes that stood out to me are ones where only one character is in frame and there is no dialogue. Melfi uses these scenes to really hit you with how much stress and pressure his characters are under, and it works brilliantly. With the exception of these scenes, the rest of the film is shot pretty conventionally.
There’s a lot of historical footage that has some CGI interspersed in it, which I thought was odd, so I’ll also count a few points off for that.
The score and soundtrack for this film were put together by two huge names: Hans Zimmer and Pharrell Williams. While the score from Zimmer is not up to par with the rest of his works, the songs by Pharrell are a lot of fun. I suspect that a lot of people will be listening to these songs in the next couple of months.
X-Factor: 4.5/10, Impact
A lot of historical adaptations of stories that deal heavily with issues of race have a unique way of showing how the issues brought up are still relevant to society in this day. Unfortunately, Hidden Figures does not do this very well, and can kinda come off as being indulgent in looking back at how far we’ve come and giving everyone pats on the back for how great we are. Sure, society has come a long way, but there is still a ton of work that needs to be done, and it’s dangerous for stories to pretend that there isn’t still work to be done. I’m not saying that this one does, only that it doesn’t push the conversation forward.
Hidden Figures is a film that I would put in the top tier of “feel-good” movies. It has a compelling story to tell and only has itself to blame for any miscues or mistakes. If you enjoy these types of movies, then this is definitely one that I’d recommend seeing. If you’re looking for a film that wants to explore racial issues in a more emotionally impactful way, then I’d recommend seeing Fences with Denzel Washington instead.