Film Review & Trailer: Hillbilly Elegy

Directed by: Ron Howard – Starring: Amy Adams, Glenn Close, Gabriel Basso, Haley Bennett, Freida Pinto, Bo Hopkins, Owen Asztalos

Streaming on Netflix from September 20th

Based on the biographical book of the same name by JD Vance, this is the story of three generations of a family from Middleton, Ohio, told through the eyes of the author – the first member of his family to strike out of poverty and make good. Basso plays the protagonist, who tries to help his drug-addicted mother, Bev (Adams) while putting himself through college. He is often supported during his mother’s instabilities by his, Mawmaw (Close) Bev’s mother.

While a multi-generational story sounds rather epic, this is all very much told from a one-sided perspective. Therefore, we never really get the full story of JD’s young grandparents fleeing to Middleton, because Mawmaw was pregnant. Nor of the menial jobs they worked to support the family. Equally, his mother is a nurse, so clearly more educated than the story would like us to believe. Yes, she falls down a rabbit hole of drugs, but it seems very convenient and sudden, and nothing seems to have triggered it.

Equally, her descent is incredibly fast. Basically it is as if the movie wants to suit JD’s narrative, without much thought for the other characters in his life. Even his sister, who lived through the same childhood as him, is somewhat of a footnote.

Despite this, Glenn Close gives an amazing performance, and totally embodies Mawmaw, for better or worse. She is completely believable as the long-suffering, hard-bitten, but loving matriarch of the family. Adams does well with what she’s given, but often her character is almost a parody. Unsurprisingly, the most well-rounded character here is JD, and even his story seems to have a lot of gaps and inconsistencies in it, but he is very much the hero of his own tale.

The pacing is incredibly tedious. There are many scenes that could have been far shorter than they are, and seem only to serve the purpose of trying to make JD more sympathetic to the audience. Unfortunately, that’s not how he comes across. Most of the time he seems rather self-centred, more interested in his own future than his family’s welfare.

This wants to be a melodrama, but fails. Close is absolutely worth watching, but it is a very slow watch, and you don’t really care that much about the outcome. It has a lot of stereotypes, and very little in the way of character evolution. I read that someone had described it as ‘poverty porn’, and it pretty much is.

I do think Close will earn accolades for this, but overall this fails on many levels. That’s a real shame, as it was an opportunity to highlight the struggle and triumphs of a poor community.

About EILE Magazine

The new LGBT magazine; available online, for download and on podcast. It's time for another view.
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