Directed by Ron Howard, “Hillbilly Elegy” stars Amy Adams and Glenn Close as the mother and grandmother of a Yale law student who returns to his rural hometown to attend to a family crisis. Adapted from the book of the same name by J.D. Vance, the film begins with a teenage J.D., played as an adult by Gabriel Basso (“American Wrestler: The Wizard”), and explores his relationships with these women and his sister (Haley Bennett), attempting to showcase their effect on his life.
As J.D.’s drug-addicted mother, Bev, Adams (“Sharp Objects”) is excellent. She effortlessly transforms from a caring loving mother into a hurtful, angry woman, a side effect often experienced while using drugs. Her storyline resonated with me. Like Bev, I was a young mother who quickly grew up to be a responsible parent. After my mother passed away, I refused to accept reality, pushing away any pain (both emotional and physical). It began with painkillers, just like with Bev, then later evolved into meth consumption. I’ve never been comfortable discussing this topic, fearing judgment as well as doubts of my recuperation, but I’ve also realized the importance of these conversations. Watching Bev’s cycline unfold onscreen brought back a painful dark period of my life, but Bev’s experience throughout the years provided the possible scenario my life could’ve taken if I hadn’t sought help. The film has drawn some negative publicity over the portrayal of these characters, but others may find a connection with this story about how your family baggage follows you in life
As Mamaw, Close (“The Wife”) is the heart of this film. Mamaw attempts to rectify her own parenting mistakes by rescuing her grandson (Owen Asztalos plays J.D. as a teen) from going down the wrong road. One of their memorable moments involves her and the young J.D. in a vehicle after he’s caught stealing a calculator.
However, “Hillbilly Elegy” is far from perfect. The editing choices were a bit odd, giving off a messy tone. Because the film is saturated with conflicts, obstacles, and drama in general, there’s a point where any further emotional potential impact is annihilated. The film would have benefited from a few extra minutes of run time. Despite solid performances all around, the characters could have benefited from more development. That said, the film is beautifully shot with a moving score by David Fleming and Hans Zimmer.
Overall, “Hillbilly Elegy” narrates the story of a man’s upbringing and how his familial relationships impact his life. It has some affecting scenes and decent performances from Adams and Close, but it would have benefited from a coherent flow.
Featured image credit: Netflix