*** out of four
The fascinating true story behind Hidden Figures is given the conventional Hollywood treatment here, but that's okay. It's a good, uplifting film that hits all the right beats.
In 1961 three brilliant African-American women, Katherine G. Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), were essential in helping NASA in the space race. Johnson's mathematical equations were key in getting the first American into space, Vaughan was insistent in learning the new IBM computers, and Jackson challenged the Jim Crow segregation laws of Virginia so she can learn NASA mandated courses taught at a “white only” high school.
Theodore Melfi's film gives us heartbreaking details about race relations of the early '60s, like Johnson having to walk half a mile to another building because the building she did work in didn't have a “colored” ladies room. She also wasn't allowed to pour coffee from the same coffee pot as her white co-workers.
The film is uniformly well acted. Henson really shines here. The three actresses have great support too, like Kevin Costner as Johnson's hard-nosed boss, Al Harrison. Glen Powell is larger than life as astronaut John Glenn, even if the portrayal here seems a little too good to be true.
When Hidden Figures is dealing with race relations and mathematical calculations, it's pretty riveting. However, the scenes of Johnson's love life feel like filler. Thankfully, these scenes are brief.
Hidden Figures is about fighting adversity and holding fast to your dreams, but it's never syrupy about it. This is a good story well told.