January 28, 2017

Hidden Figures

A wonderful untold story of three ambitious black lady nerds who persevere through cultural and workplace racism and sexism to advance and contribute to America's space program of the early 1960s.
While all businesses hold profit, success, and results over all other considerations, engineering and mathematics are special in that quantifying success is, erm, black and white. If you can deliver the right numbers the fastest, you are valued.
Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer), and Mary Jackson (Janelle MonĂ¡e) all defeat the low expectations of their white peers and bosses, and transcend totally unfair double standards to follow their professional goals in a workplace where only white men in skinny ties have achieved before.
These three leads have tons of charm and chemistry on offer as their characters boost each other up, while maintaining their dignity in the face of deep seated racism and sexism, mostly served with a dumb smile or a cold shoulder. The supporting cast was solid too:
  • Kirsten Dunst was terrific as the ladies' supervisor and blonde ceiling to advancement. This is the first grown-up role I've seen her in, and she's made the jump well in a thankless role.
  • Speaking of thankless, Jim Parsons made a small leap to play a closed-off math nerd who heaps work on Katherine, and serves as the inflexible face of white guy privilege. Not much different than his role on Big Bang Theory, he get a few laughs here and there, and his character only warms to Katherine in the last moments of the movie.
  • Kevin Costner was solid as the exasperated head of the nerds, continually focused on results above all other considerations, also, looking great at 61 (he turned 62 two weeks ago, the day after my birthday. Funny he played a washed-up ballplayer...28 years ago!)
  • Polish actor Olek Krupa brings plenty of color as Mary's engineering colleague, although their arc feels like it was mostly left on the cutting room floor.
Overall a charming and earnest film, essential if only to demonstrate to white folk that they've been taking their privilege for granted for too long; everyone else has to work wayyyy harder for even a chance at the same opportunities.
My Stub Hubby Grade: B-plus. Bonus points for Taraji P. Henson, so broad and loud as Cookie on Empire, completely transformed in this role, she deserved an Oscar nomination way more than Octavia Spencer. I loved Henson's trot/walk as she hurried across campus from her desk to the toilets and back. Her gait alone deserves a nomination.
We'll be back next month for The Lego Batman Movie!

Theater Notes: Emily went to see Hidden Figures January 9 with the ladies and came home with a strong recommendation, so when I had some free babysitting lined up three weeks (and three Oscar nominations) later, I headed to the Capitol Theater to catch the 7:15pm show...but it was sold out. I quickly discovered it was playing at the Belmont Studio Cinema an hour later, so I headed back there and bought a ticket 45 minutes in advance. I retreated to my car across the street to listen to Bruce Springsteen on the WTF podcast, and around 7:45pm I entered the overflowing scrum in the theater's tiny lobby. Turns out the 5:45 show hadn't let out yet. The crowd was excited and energized- a bunch of people around me had never been to the Studio Cinema before! The theater seating was recently upgraded, with a whole row of upholstered sofa-style seating, and small tables interspersed through some rows. I hope the sleeper success of Hidden Figures boosts the reputation and attendance of the Studio Cinema in the future!
ALSO At the Studio Cinema
The crowd waiting for the previous show to let out
spilled onto the sidewalk
Turns out I have been to the Studio Cinema nine times in nine years, but five of those visits were in the last year, so it's likely the pace will continue to rise. The cinema was closed for five months in 2015 for safety reasons, putting a dent in my opportunities and interest in attending!