REVIEW: Hidden Figures

4 01 2017

Hidden Figures” features three black female protagonists – or, rather, the film features what feels like a single protagonist with three different facets all fighting different incarnations of the same struggle. During the heat of the space race, this trio of women little known to history played a tremendous role in boosting the fortunes and morale of a nation that still treated them like second-class citizens.

The mathematical calculations of Taraji P. Henson’s Katherine Johnson helped ensure that John Glenn could orbit the earth safely, but she had to contend with institutional racism and sexism that hampered her performance. Octavia Spencer’s Dorothy Vaughn learned how to work NASA’s first IBM computer, primarily because discriminatory hiring practices prevented her from traditional professional advancement. Janelle Monáe’s Mary Jackson became one of the agency’s most brilliant engineers, although in order to do so, she had to fight segregation in the courts to get the education she needed for the job.

While Henson might get the most screen time of the three – she’s the one whose romantic interests that writers Theodore Melfi and Allison Schroeder care to develop – the film really does feel like it possesses a set of co-leads. Their day-to-day struggles might be different, as are the people keeping them from reaching their full potential. Yet together, they provide each other with the strength to tear down the limitations holding them back: first within themselves, then in their workplace, and soon enough the world.

Even as “Hidden Figures” hews closer to the sentimentality of “The Help” than the strategizing of “Selma,” the film gives specificity and definition to each character. Though their hurdles might look the same, Melfi’s direction never allows them to become flattened out or treated as one in the same. The film could have foregone many scenes so obviously built around a vamp up to a Civil Rights-era declaration of humanity, but the cumulative effect of this inspiration and representation is tough to deny. These women were owed respect in their time, not only for their work but also for all they had to do in order to perform that work. It’s wonderful that the film brings their lives into the limelight. B+3stars

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REVIEW: Everybody Wants Some!!

30 03 2016

SXSW Film Festival

After completing the arduous shoot of “Apocalypse Now,” director Francis Ford Coppola famously remarked, “My film is not a movie. My film is not about Vietnam. It is Vietnam.” Writer and director Richard Linklater, brilliant though he is, seems to lack Coppola’s penchant for bombast or self-promotion. So, if I might, I would like to say what I doubt Linklater ever would about his latest film, “Everybody Wants Some!!

“Everybody Wants Some!!” is not a film about college. It is college.

For the roughly two hour runtime of Linklater’s so-called “spiritual sequel” to “Dazed and Confused,” I did not merely watch a representation of college-aged males running amuck. I was transported back to my own college days – never mind that the film takes place in 1980, when my dad first enrolled. The cars, the hair, the music and the outfits might have shifted in the four decades between then and now, but the more things changed, the more they stayed the same.

I have praised many a college movie, from Noah Baumbach’s sardonic “Kicking and Screaming” to Lord & Miller’s farcical “22 Jump Street” and even the animated with Pixar’s “Monsters University.” Those movies can hardly hold a candle to “Everybody Wants Some!!” I recognized every single character in the film as having some analogous counterpart in my own life. This may have a little something to do with the fact that Linklater is, like myself, a Houston native and very familiar with that distinctly Texan strain of the “bro.”

I suspect, however, that my reaction comes less from geography and more from ethnography. The film is not rooted in place or time, though each definitely leaves a stamp. Rather, it is about the full college experience and all it entails. “Everybody Wants Some!!” celebrates that very unique freedom of the period between being someone’s kid and being someone’s parent. It’s the rare occurrence where liberty comes with hardly any repercussions or responsibilities. The now matters more than the future, and everyone collectively agrees to enjoy it.

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