Review / ‘Hidden Figures’ (PG) ***

DIRECTOR Theodore Melfi’s second (after “St Vincent”) feature tells how three Afro-American women with hard-earned qualifications in mathematics and engineering made significant contributions to the gestation of America’s entry into the space race in a desperate effort to out-class the Soviet Union’s achievements.

The story is certainly worth telling. Playing the women are Taraji P. Henson as number-cruncher extraordinary Katherine Johnson (NASA later named a major research facility after her); Octavia Spencer as Dorothy Vaughan who got NASA’s first big computer to perform after the IBM team couldn’t; and Janelle Monae as Mary Jackson, the widowed mother of three kids who took a segregated university to court so she could take a degree in engineering that led to her making major contributions to John Glenn’s space capsule. In a sidebar, Mary married an army colonel played by Mahershala Ali (also currently appearing in “Moonlight”).

It tells well-known stories. It’s about being coloured and female in a profession hitherto the preserve of white males (led by Kevin Costner). It’s about America wiping away the egg that Sputnik smeared on its face. Performing those functions covers a broad span of time and place, compelling staccato treatment of the film’s content.

It’s an agreeable-enough movie. But I looked carefully through the cast and crew without finding who it was who crammed such a plethora of god-bless-America-coloured clichés into its fabric, thereby reducing what might have been a worthy Oscar nominee to rather a potboiler. We must assume it was Melfi’s co-writer Allison Schroeder, also an Oscar nominee.

At Palace Electric, Capitol 6, Hoyts and Limelight

 

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