There is something very familiar about Hidden Figures. It isn’t the story itself, although Hollywood has documented the struggle of African-Americans during the 60s many times before. Neither is it the acting, which is a dependable and very good. It isn’t even the true event, especially as John Glenn’s mission into space has very rarely been featured on-screen. The familiarity comes from the way the story is delivered, which unfortunately, is very generic.
Hollywood has produced hundreds if not thousands of biopics and Hidden Figures seems to follow the same story structure, character-beats and formula that all of those movies did too. It begins with our character as a child, showing promise, introduces the main characters as likable females, each with very specific character traits instantly recognisable from their first scene and then offers all three of them moments of triumph as they overcome the racist society they find themselves in. This isn’t a bad thing, it just doesn’t quite have the desired impact it would once have had.
There doesn’t necessarily need to be a grand shake-up of formula to tell this story. It lends itself to a clear three act structure. The tale is always interesting but somehow very predictable. This doesn’t just come from the fact it is a true story and quite a famous one (the larger tale of John Glenn is anyway) but it does come from very lazy writing and very forced moments.
All three of the “hidden figures” have a worthy story but they follow the exact same pattern. They come up against hardship, persevere and even get a scene where they “stick it to The Man.” It makes for an entertaining watch but one we’ve seen many times before.
This doesn’t take anything away from the performances themselves. The three key actresses, Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae, play their respective roles well but at no point do they have to stretch their dramatic talents or deliver scenes which stand-out.
The same can be said for the support. Kevin Costner is as reliable as ever and proving to be an effective go-to for supporting male actor. Kirsten Dunst gives another reliable, if somewhat forgettable performance which seems to be defining her career of late. There is nothing wrong with these performances, just nothing inspiring or exceptional either.
That isn’t to say Hidden Figures is a bad film. It is an interesting story, one worth telling and Katherine G Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson deserve their tale to be told and their contribution to be recognised. Unfortunately, that contribution leads to a finale of a movie which is devoid of drama or tension because the outcome is so familiar.
Overall, Hidden Figures tells a very worthy story in a very familiar way. If you’ve watched at least three biopics, you’ve seen this kind of movie before. The story-arcs are clear, the scenes predictable and although the performances are good, they hardly stretch the clearly accomplished actors at all. Watch it for the story but don’t expect to be blown-away by the delivery.
Rating – 3
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