‘Hidden Figures’ soars with a trio of great performances

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Hidden Figures (2016)

Directed by Theodore Melfi

Believe it or not, writer/director Theodore Melfi’s (“St. Vincent”) second major motion picture, “Hidden Figures,” is about as wonderful as his first. “Hidden Figures” tells the story of three extraordinary women who overcome societal roadblocks to accomplish historic feats. Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), a math genius from a young age, became the first African-American woman computer (before computing was done by machines) for the NASA Guidance and Control Division that launched men into space. Despite her boss’s (Kevin Costner) and coworkers’ (including Jim Parsons) doubts, Johnson showed that when the math is life and death, you want it done right…no matter who’s doing the calculating. Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) was the first African-American supervisor at NASA. Her self-taught programming skills were useful in teaching young employees how to operate the facility’s IBM machines. And Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) went to court for her right to take engineering classes, and went on to become the first African-American aeronautical engineer. Together, along with their teams, these three courageous women took their country to unthinkable new heights.

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Taraji P. Henson is a verifiable superstar. She had her first Oscar nomination in 2009, for “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” Soon, she might get her second—unless the split time she shares with her costars leads to the splitting up of nomination votes, leading to none of these amazing actresses getting nominated. Regardless, there’s not much not to love about the “Empire” star’s role. Janelle Monáe had her first on-screen film role in “Moonlight” a few months ago, in a small role that audiences fell in love with. Now, she follows it up with another impressive effort. The whole team works together to make “Hidden Figures” so genuinely fun.

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Even if he doesn’t win Best Original Song this year, Pharrell Williams should receive some MVP recognition for contributing several songs to the “Hidden Figures” soundtrack, all of which share the movie’s overall era-appropriate, sassy, funky vibe. “I See a Victory,” an infectious stand-up-and-clap gospel tune by Williams and Kim Burrell, is the best of the bunch. “Hidden Figures” knows what it’s about, and by the end of it, so will you.

7.5/10

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