Verdict: Go watch this movie. It’s incredibly heartfelt and honest, with Taraji Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe giving some of the strongest performances of the year. Cross your fingers for the Oscar nomination it so deserves.
Synopsis: “Three brilliant African-American women at NASA — Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) — serve as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in history: the launch of astronaut John Glenn (Glen Powell) into orbit, a stunning achievement that restored the nation’s confidence, turned around the Space Race and galvanized the world.”
The Good: Fantastic leading actors with a strong supporting cast, good pacing, and Mahershala Ali.
You find leads with better chemistry this year, and I’ll call you a liar. Taraji Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe lead this small but spectacular cast that includes Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, and Jim Parsons. But to be clear: this is the leading actor’s film, absolutely through and through.
Henson, Spencer, and Monáe portray some of NASA’s first women and Black mathematicians, programmers, and engineers. And they do so brilliantly. Henson is the center of the film, providing a memorable and nuanced performance. Spencer and Monáe have very different but equally powerful performances, providing some great character diversity. The real magic happens when they come together on screen, often in the non-NASA related subplots or pauses. When the movie takes these breaths, the three leads shine together, dripping in chemistry and personality and history. It’s so utterly convincing that I can’t believe they didn’t drive to work together for ten years.
The rest of the cast give good performances, but they are knowingly and correctly in the background, supporting the main trio by providing non-overpowering conflict or allegiance where needed. Of note was Kirsten Dunst, who I admittedly haven’t seen since Melancholia, but she was nuanced here in a way I hadn’t seen from her previously.
I also have to take a quick second to plug my absolute new favorite actor, Mahershala Ali. He’s having a hell of a year, and this was no exception. He can’t be on screen for more than 10 minutes or so, but he’s got that same addicting charisma he exuded in Moonlight and Luke Cage. His chemistry with Henson is undeniable. Hollywood, please don’t screw this up. Give Ali the attention he deserves.
Plot-wise, there’s nothing here you haven’t seen before; it’s formulaic and predictable, and absolutely delightful. The fact that it’s recognizable is not a detriment at all and shows how it’s possible to work within the bounds of what’s been done and still create a fantastic piece of art. It allows the audience to sink into the comfort of knowing where the movie is going so they can enjoy the performances to their absolute fullest. It’s as earnestly heartfelt as they come.
The Bad: Nothing remotely worth mentioning
Good luck finding something, honestly. At worse, it’s protagonists seem a tad too perfect, rarely exhibiting some consequential fault? But in a movie about celebrating these never talked about women, screw that, let ‘em shine.
The Wonderful: Please, Hollywood, make more movies like this
You know in school how they have “those” movies they always show? Like “Freedom Writers” with Hillary Swank? Well, this is a movie about intersectional feminism, systematic racism, and overt discrimination, led by three Black women in roles other than slaves or maids or inner city kids saved by white people. And it passes the Bechdel test with flying colors. Hidden Figures should absolutely be required watching for schools from now on, let alone for all of you. Please see it immediately, if possible.