HIDDEN FIGURES was based on a book by Margot Lee Shetterly. It tells the story of Katherine (Taraji P. Henson), a brilliant mathematician; Mary (Janelle Monae), who wants to become an engineer; and Dorothy (Octavia Spencer), a specialist in the newfangled IBM computers.
Katherine gets her chance when she's promoted to work in a group headed by Al Harrison (a "composite figure" played by Kevin Costner). She's referred to as a "computer," checking engineering numbers for Mercury flights in the days before a real computer could do it.
All three actresses are engaging playing brave and interesting women, though I was particularly taken with Henson as the mathematician, a woman of fascinating gifts. Beyond the fact that she was a groundbreaker on multiple levels, what I enjoyed most was simply seeing a really smart woman portrayed on screen.
The script might be just a bit heavy-handed and obvious at times, such as starting off with the women harassed by an obnoxious police officer -- who funnily enough is so impressed when he learns they work with astronauts at NASA that he ends up becoming more cordial -- but that comment on the presentation aside, the challenges they faced as black women in a male-dominated world were real. Katherine has to hike to a "colored" bathroom half a mile from her office, and Mary must obtain a court order before she's allowed to attend college engineering classes! Meanwhile all three women were also raising families.
Kevin Costner is a longtime favorite of mine, and I really enjoyed him as the project manager with huge responsibilities and pressures, who recognizes and encourages talent. Costner fans will enjoy him in this.
And as someone who first saw Kirsten Dunst as young Amy in LITTLE WOMEN (1994), it was a surprise to realize that time has marched on! The cast also includes Jim Parsons, Mahershala Ali, Kimberly Quinn, Glen Powell, and Aldis Hodge.
HIDDEN FIGURES was directed by Theodore Melfi. It was filmed by Mandy Walker. The running time is 127 minutes.
Parental Advisory: This movie is rated PG for "thematic elements and some language." Honestly, I can't even recall anything which made it PG. This is an inspirational story on multiple levels which I recommend for family viewing.
The trailer is available at the movie's official website.
Finally, a sequel to comments made here last September on the current state of moviegoing.
1) I've seen a number of new movies since SULLY and managed to work around the reserved seating issues by usually attending morning screenings, which are still unreserved at my favorite theater. I still think it's a silly and inconvenient idea. Tonight we used passes received as a Christmas gift at a different theater, and like our discount passes the tickets could only be redeemed at the box office. We were there 40 minutes before the show time, and the only pair of seats left which weren't in the front row were in the very back row. Strangely, we realized when we left that some of the seats had been empty. Do people pay online and not show up?
3) And finally, that scourge of moviegoing, the cell phone. We've usually had good luck with this issue at our regular theater, but tonight two people in the row below us decided it would be a good time to surf the web during the movie. I finally told one of them to shut it off when the phone was turned on a second time. Fortunately they did. Yesterday I noted that Apple is working on an iPhone "theater mode." As more than one person has commented on Twitter since then, cellphones already have a theater mode -- you just hit the off button.
I'm feeling just a little bit like a "set in the ways" grump resisting the new tonight, but moviegoing should be a simple thing. You should be able to redeem passes and still get good seats, sit in a clean and comfortable seat with your feet on the floor if that's your preference, and watch a movie undistracted by glowing lights. That's becoming increasingly difficult to do, and it's a sad state of affairs for those who love movies.
Fortunately my next movie will be at UCLA's Billy Wilder Theatre, where I always have a good viewing experience!