• by Wes Singleton

Hidden Figures, B

Rated PG, 126 minutes

The familiar yet uplifting "Hidden Figures" tells the inspiring true story of three remarkable women who literally helped change the course of history. In spite of some predictable, uneven plot elements, the talented three lead actresses make it work.

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.

"Hidden Figures" tells the extraordinary story behind Johnson, Vaughan, and Jackson, all of whom helped put the United States at the forefront of space technology, serving as key contributors to important space missions in the 1960's and '70s and faced challenges in regards to gender and race. "Figures" is directed and co-written by "St. Vincent's" Theodore Melfi, based on Margot Lee Shetterly's upcoming non-fiction account of the three; it's well-acted by all three leads, especially "Empire's" Henson and Oscar-winner Spencer.

The ambitious film is best when it focuses on the specific work of the ladies, and is less successful in its broad strokes in dealing with the racial and gender inequality. Though all three ladies were remarkable, it spends the most time with brilliant mathematician Johnson (who is still living at the age 98 and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom just last year), charmingly played by Henson, in both her professional and personal lives Spencer and Monae are both good in their underdeveloped storylines, and I wish the film could've spent a little time with Monae's character in particular, who became NASA's first female African-American engineer.

Also seen in supporting turns include Oscar-winner Kevin Costner as Johnson's hard-nosed boss, "The Big Bang Theory's" Jim Parsons as a self-absorbed colleague of Johnson's, Kirsten Dunst as Vaughan's snooty superior and "Moonlight's" Mahershala Ali as Johnson's second husband. Costner is the most successful of these in a slightly bland turn, while the others are given little to do.

Some of the initial scenes are the most fun in showing the camaraderie of the three ladies, though it's unknown if the three were as close friends as the film depicts, while the film ends with the Glenn mission. Unsurprisingly, the script alters some facts and the timeline with the ladies' real story for cinematic effect, but it doesn't underscore their impact. With some of the music done by R&B star Pharrell Williams and handsomely shot by Mandy Walker ("Truth"), it gives a strong sense of what went on at NASA during the early missions.

Most importantly, "Hidden Figures" underscores the important work done by all three ladies, who were not only brilliant scientists but pioneers for equal rights. A must-see, enjoyable film.

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