Starring: Taraji P Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner, Jim Parsons, Kirsten Dunst, Mahershala Ali, Glen Powell, Aldis Hodge
Directed By: Theodore Melfi
Plot: Three black women make history at NASA. Katherine Johnson (Henson) is a brilliant mathematician for NASA, brought into a team that has no other women, let alone no other black women. She works under Paul Stafford (Parsons) who doesn’t seem to like her much, but who works under Al Harrison (Costner) who soon recognizes Katherine’s value. Can they get John Glenn (Powell) safely into space?
What Works: It’s just a really well made, uplifting film. It’s not too heavy, but it still manages to have a couple moments to hit you at the right times, a lot like The Help did. I’d say all three women were provided with that “moment” they need to be in Oscar consideration. Each performance has it. Henson’s moment comes in her big speech about why she’s gone for forty minutes. Monae’s comes in the courtroom, and Spencer’s comes all too quickly in brief exchange in a bathroom. Each actress did a fantastic job. I have a feeling Henson will be left out of the race this year, because there just are more showy lead actress roles. However, she might sneak in. Spencer and/or Monae should snag a nomination. The film does a great job with exploring a story that we already know the ending to, not by trying to hold us in a lot of fake suspense. There isn’t a long drawn out scene where John Glenn might die. Instead, it focuses on the “how” because that’s what the whole movie is about. The people behind the scenes who got Glenn there. It’s in that simplicity that the film succeeds.
What Doesn’t Work: A near perfect film, but I almost wish it had pushed that race card a bit more. In a film like this there always seems to be at least one token white racist character that learns that their thinking is becoming out of place in their time, but instead all the white people in the film are decent people for the most part. Even the few minor characters are fairly polite about their racism, and not just downright terrible people.
Final Word: There’s a reason this is such a huge hit right now, and it’s because this is a crowd pleaser. It has a great message that you can come from anywhere and achieve great things. Just because someone hasn’t done it before, doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Be the first person to do whatever it is you dream of doing.
Final Grade: A