Film review: Hillbilly Elegy
- Credit: Lacey Terrell/NETFLIX
Ron Howard’s screen adaptation of J.D. Vance’s potentially interesting memoir about growing up poor, serves up the standard sentimental fare about family
Ron Howard’s screen adaptation of J.D. Vance’s best selling memoir is unlike most Hollywood based-on-true-story projects in that you do believe that the story is true – because it’s dull enough to have actually happened.
It’s not an uninteresting story. Raised in Ohio, Vance is of Kentucky Appalachian stock born to a single mother. (Adams) Yet despite his humble and chaotic upbringing, he got into Yale to study law. In the film though this translates into a series of vignettes that might pass a few minutes as Doyouremeberthattimewhen reminiscences at a family gathering, but aren’t going to hold a movie audience.
And, let’s be honest, Out Of Adversity A Lawyer Was Born! isn’t one of the great inspirational narratives.
The film flicks back and forth between teenage Vance (Asztalos) and the grown-up version, Basso. Teen Vance and his sister (Bennett), try to hold it together as their volatile mother Adams throws violent tantrums and flits between a variety of jobs, boyfriends and addictions. Looking out for them is granny Close – looking like a reptilian Mrs Merton – who is tough and foulmouthed but mostly loving.
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Framing this is Big Vance at Yale in the middle of series of potentially career-defining job placement interviews having to drive back home because his mother has overdosed on heroin.
I went into this knowing nothing about J.D. and his book, which I took to be another misery memoir. Turns out it’s a conservative political tract in which Vance argues that Appalachian and other rustbelt poor are kept down by their own culture and values.
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Which sounds like another self-made man kicking the ladder away after he’s climbed up it spiel but when the book came out during the 2016 election campaign, Vance was seen as a conservative that liberals could get on with.
But absolutely none of that it is the film. If anything the film flips the message. The book argues that poor working-class people need to break the cycle of violence and verbal abuse passed down the generations. The film just offers up the standard slop about family mattering more than anything.
Starring Amy Adams, Glenn Close, Haley Bennett, Gabriel Basso, Bo Hopkins, Owen Asztalos and Freida Pinto. Streaming on Netflix from Nov 24. Running time: 116 mins.
Got to www.halfmanhalfcritic.com for a review of Arrow Video’s 4K Ultra HD/ Blu-ray/DVD release of Christopher Walken gangster pic King of New York.