There’s a dead-horse stereotype many people in the reviewing community use about how January is where movies go when the studio knows they’re going to suck. So far, the only sucky movie January has given me is a movie from a franchise where the suckiness is part of it’s charm, and then it has also given me the best YA movie I have seen in at least a decade, if not more.
And now we have Hidden Figures, a movie that is getting Golden Globes types of attention. If this is how January is planning on being from now on, I’ll be mighty okay with it.
Hidden Figures is a good movie. It’s a film with good performances all around and some very touching and emotional scenes.
As expected, the most interesting characters in this movie are the three women. The best scenes in the movie usually involved the three of them interacting with each other. Their characters are relatively standard, but they are all differentiated enough to contrast each other and be interesting. All three of their character arcs were also interesting and worthwhile. (I’m about to throw a bunch of names at you… so I’ll provide a link to their IMDb bios should anyone require context.)
Of the three, Taraji P. Henson receives the most opportunities to deliver a fantastic performance, and she succeeds whenever the dialogue doesn’t hold her back (more on that in a second).
By contrast, nearly every other character in the film never has a moment of greatness, and most of them are really bland.
Kevin Costner was good in his role; his character mainly serves to be the guy who sympathizes with the plight of how these qualified women are being held back by racism, and decides to change it. His character is not much more than that, however, and it may be one of the blandest performances of Costner’s I’ve seen.
Jim Parsons basically reprises his role as Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory, except without the incessant stream of Chuck Lorre one-liners. You might think that this is a good thing, but there’s not much more to Parsons’s character in this movie aside from the fact that he’s an irritating thorn in Henson’s character’s side.
The love interest for Henson’s character, along with the husbands of the other two women are serviceable. The child actors are all fine, and they thankfully never take up enough screen time for their acting to be distractingly terrible.
Kirsten Dunst probably does the best out of all the side characters. Her character is largely defined by her relationship with Octavia Spencer, but her scenes with her are genuine enough, and they somehow got Dunst to look ten years older than she actually is.
The dialogue for this movie is fine enough, but it frequently roamed into territories that were too expository, cheesy, or preachy. I understand that the whole racism topic was unavoidable in these types of movies, but considering I, and most viewers, have seen twenty other movies like this, it doesn’t make your movie smarter when they condescendingly spell out WHY this racism was bad.
For instance, there’s a moment where Kirsten Dunst and Janelle Monáe get into a spat because Dunst is preventing Monáe from doing what she wants to do. And Monáe’s character throws her head up in the air and goes, “You see, they just move the finish line over whenever we try to get ahead, UGH!”
And all I could think was, “Ah, yes. If I didn’t have that line of dialogue, I wouldn’t have known that Dunst was being racist and a jerk, and I wouldn’t have understood the systemic racism that existed in the 1960’s or in NASA, thanks.”
Now this wouldn’t be a big deal if this was the only example of dialogue being cheesy, expository, or preachy, but it’s like this throughout the entire movie, and it’s not needed considering how the movie is shot, and how adequate all of the performances were. As the movie progresses, they do a lot more showing than telling, and the film got a lot better overall because of this.
The soundtrack for this movie was one part stereotypical black soul music (half of which did not compliment the scene it accompanied at all), and one part stereotypical orchestra music used to emphasize inspiring and emotional scenes (all of which was unexceptional and repetitive). It came as no surprise to me when I found out that Pharrell Williams was behind most of this music, and I mean no offense to his fans, but I find the man to be extremely overrated.
There is A LOT of scenes that involve mathematic mumbo-jumbo. I understand that a lot of this was required to be in this movie since it’s about figuring out the mathematical formulas of getting a man into space and living to tell about it. However, these scenes eventually created an emotional disconnect after a while because all I was doing was staring at people writing numbers on a chalk board, and I had no grasp on how accurate or impressive it was aside from the actors letting me know how accurate and impressive it was.
It reminded me of those conversations with relatives who have complicated jobs, and they try to explain the schematics to me, and after a while, all I can do is nod and say that it’s impressive despite the fact I had zero understanding of what they’re talking about.
This isn’t necessarily a detractor for the movie, but it did prevent it from being better.
Hidden Figures is a conclusively well performed movie with a competent enough line of events. There isn’t much in it that allows for exceptionality, and a lot of it was standard and by the book, but it’s not like the movie was bad. If you enjoy these kind of movies, then you will probably like this one too. Otherwise, I’m assuming that most people will forget about it after the award shows are over.