What’s more uplifting than rocket science? If uncovering the shamefully forgotten role of African-American women in the space race won’t quite do it for you, the soundtrack by Pharrell ought to top it off. Theodore Melfi’s Hidden Figures, a lively adaptation of Margot Lee Shetterly’s best-selling non-fiction book, has burst onto UK screens after an Academy Best Picture nomination, and its triumph can only be down to how damn impossible it is to dislike.
Melfi’s previous filmography is limited, yet Figures plays like a film by an accomplished veteran of the industry – it’s well-paced, confident, and self-assured in its delivery. The same can be said of its performances – Taraji P. Henson’s SAG win for her role as Katherine Johnson is thoroughly deserved, while Janelle Monae’s Mary Jackson energises the screen even when she’s in the background. In a small but memorable role, Aldis Hodge as Monae’s husband sees the two achieving a remarkable onscreen chemistry which elevates Monae’s Mary upward from likeable sidekick to loveable, fully-fleshed character. Octavia Spencer giving an impeccable performance is perhaps something to be expected by now, considering her track record, but she nevertheless dazzles as Dorothy Vaughan, delivering some of the most compelling moments of the film with a mastery of quiet, calm self-reflection. Not to forget the aesthetic, stunning costume by Renee Kalfus keeps this 60’s flick vibrant and bubbly from the get-go.
"Taraji P. Henson’s SAG win for her role as Katherine Johnson is thoroughly deserved"
Although the killer soundtrack and three energetic lead performances might be the root of its appeal, the film’s real strength comes in its ability to steer clear of melodrama, and to communicate the persistent exhaustion that must come with confronting everyday racism with intelligence, subtlety, and plenty of humour. It’s an achievement to make a film this culturally important, and it’s another to simply make it so undeniably enjoyable. Mark this one down as a must-see.
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