AROUND THE WAY GIRL: A MEMOIR (Taraji P. Henson, Denene Millner, 2016)

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In the 2016 Golden Globes where she won Best Actress in a Drama Series, Taraji P. Henson went full Cookie Lyon mode upon the announcement of her name. She spontaneously grabbed a handful of complimentary cookies from her table and started handing them out to everyone including Lady Gaga and Leonardo DiCaprio. She feigned an attitude when an usher accidentally stepped on her gown (“Get off my train!”) and said a mouthful when asked to wrap up her speech (“I waited twenty years for this, you’re gonna wait!”).

In this squeaky-clean memoir, it was obvious that the real Taraji wasn’t too far off from her beloved onscreen persona (less the crack and jail time, of course). It actually gave us a glimpse of all the hardships that she faced as a black kid growing up in a troubled home and how it shaped her into becoming a strong and successful woman of color in Hollywood.

Although admirable for its honesty, this book didn’t really strive to be more than inspirational. The later chapters skimped on her interesting life in showbiz. Where were the juicy details? Why was the best part about Squad Goals only a few pages long? It was also odd that everything in her life seemed to be very much like the films she made (and did we really need a synopsis of Baby Boy and Hustle & Flow every time they were mentioned?).

Hopefully her next book would be more “You want Cookie’s nookie? Ditch the bitch!”. Bring it, Taraji!

Rating: ★★★☆☆

 

HIDDEN FIGURES (Theodore Melfi, 2016)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Hidden Figures:

1. Jimmy Kimmel in the recent Oscars telecast said it best when he introduced the amazing trio of actresses in this film as Algebra’s Angels.

Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae portrayed Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson respectively, the real-life brains behind NASA’s space exploration program in the early ’60s. These women’s admirable display of courage and resiliency (and basically kicked ass!) amidst the blatant racial and gender discrimination in Virginia during that time was a story that needed to be told (“Every time we have a chance to move ahead, they move the finish line”).

As expected, I cried my heart out throughout the movie’s entirety. Surprisingly, none of it was because of the mathematical equations (elliptical vs parabolic!) written on the board.

2. Katherine was obviously a gifted child because at a young age she could identify all the various shapes (rhombus! tetrahedron!) on a window design even if I could only see pointed shapes and a swirling blob pattern. She reminded me so much of John Nash, another genius that saw symbols float from windows that led to his Nobel Prize.

As the adult Katherine, Taraji dialled her famous feisty persona several notches down and it effectively worked in her favor. Cookie Lyon would never run half a mile just to pee in a colored bathroom so it was a pleasant surprise when this plucky side showed up in that outburst scene where Katherine, fully drenched from the rain and probably 10 pounds lighter from all the running, stood up to her supervisor (Kevin Costner) who questioned her long bathroom breaks (“I have to run to Timbuktu just to relieve myself!”).

Still surprised she didn’t get an Oscar nomination for that brilliant scene which fully summarized the hurt and embarrassment caused by segregation (colored bathrooms, colored coffee pot, colored fountain, colored seats at the back of the bus, colored entrance in buildings, unbelievable!!). And yes, I cried even more when Costner took a sledgehammer and knocked down that bathroom sign (“Here at NASA, we all pee the same color”). Bring a box of tissues!

3. Given the heavy and serious themes, the movie still managed to wring out laughs from all of the tension. Most of the humor came from the scenes with Janelle (who actually channeled Cookie) and whose character Mary couldn’t care less what the others thought of her liberal ideals (“I have the right to see fine men regardless of color”).

Weirdly enough, I couldn’t hold back my tears even if some scenes were played for laughs (again, all the running done to the bathroom was just heartbreaking). This inspirational film couldn’t be accused of emotional manipulation if all of my pain was self-inflicted, right?

4. “No shoe is worth a life.” This obviously happened pre-Manolo Blahnik, Christian Louboutin and Jimmy Choo.

5. If there was one thing I wasn’t too fond of, it was the amount of time devoted to Katherine’s lovelife. I knew it was meant to humanize her considering that she was a walking computer, but we could have done without it. At 127 minutes, the movie obviously needed a bit of trimming.

6. I really loved the slice of pie reference made to Octavia. I probably held off on eating chocolate pie for a full year after seeing Minnie’s recipe on The Help.

7. Were those huge contraptions the first IBM computer models? They actually looked like the scariest dialysis machines. Kids these days are just way fortunate (read: entitled).

8. Kirsten Dunst played her bitchy supervisor role so well that I wanted to slap her Legal Wife-style when she made Dorothy look like a custodian and asked her to push those heavy files back using a steel cart. Oh, the nerdddddd!!

Speaking of, Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) naturally played the head engineer. Not surprised at all that the cast won the SAG for Best Ensemble.

9. So happy to live in a time when these women are hidden figures no more. Nothing can trump that feeling. Oh, wait…

Rating: ★★★★☆