Review: Hillbilly Elegy (2020)


Directed by: Ron Howard | 116 minutes | drama | Actors: Haley Bennett, Amy Adams, Glenn Close, Freida Pinto, Gabriel Basso, Sunny Mabrey, Bo Hopkins, Stephen Kunken, Dylan Gage, William Mark McCullough, Owen Asztalos, Tierney Smith

“Hillbilly Elegy” is a well-acted, but not entirely convincing drama about the young student J.D. Vance tries to break away from his poor family in Ohio, only to learn that the family ties cannot be broken just like that.

The movie actually cuts the story into two parts: the present day when Vance (played by Gabriel Basso) is studying at the law school at prestigious Yale University – and long flashback scenes to his childhood in the impoverished town of Middletown, Ohio with his dysfunctional family. . The Vances are originally from Kentucky, but his grandmother and grandfather leave there after his grandmother became pregnant at the age of 13.

At the beginning of the film, Vance has one goal: to arrange a summer internship at a renowned law firm that will earn him $ 30,000 and which also allows him to be close to his girlfriend Usha (Freida Pinto). Then he receives a phone call from his older sister Lyndsey (Haley Bennett). Their mother Beverly (Amy Adams) has taken an overdose of heroin and is in hospital. Torn apart by doubts about not wanting to screw up his latest job interview, Vance decides to move back from Connecticut to Ohio to take care of his mother.

The flashbacks color the events further and further: how the young J.D. (Owen Asztalos) grapples with Beverly’s behavior and how he finds support from his grandmother, whom he calls Mamaw and is played by an almost unrecognizable Glenn Close. She lives on the same street. Alone, though, because Grandpa Papaw (Bo Hoskins) also has his own house in the street. It turns out that not only Beverly has problems, but everyone has suffered psychological damage to some degree.

“Hillbilly Elegy” is based on the book of the same name that J.D. Vance wrote in 2016, drawing broader connections to the position of the poor white underclass in the United States based on his own experiences. It caused a lot of discussion, especially after Donald Trump surprisingly won the presidential election later that year. It was the people of the same background as Vance who now voted en masse for the Republican Party. Conservatives in particular took off with Vance’s message that it was not only economic conditions that caused generations of people on the border of poverty, alcoholism, drug use and domestic violence, but that social decline was partly due to their own culture and attitude to life. The circumstances versus own responsibility.

Incidentally, the film doesn’t delve so deeply into the political implications of families like that of J.D. Vance. Director Ron Howard mainly makes it a family drama, which relies heavily on the cast-iron acting performances of Glenn Close and Amy Adams. While he can’t help it in acting, Basso’s J.D. Vance is a bit of a drab figure in the midst of all the verbal (and sometimes physical) violence. The same goes for Pinto, who, apart from two short scenes, can only communicate with her boyfriend by phone.

The real fireworks come from the two women who play the main roles. First of all, Glenn Close, who is allowed to shuffle through the image in a wide T-shirt with huge glasses under a curly wig, almost always with a burning cigarette butt in her mouth. Her Mamaw is a surrogate mother to J.D., but it turns out that underneath the witticisms and loving approach to her young grandson also lurks a complicated woman who is by no means free from how her daughter turned out. And then of course Amy Adams, who portrays a tour-de-force as the haunted Beverly, who is fired as a nurse after taking pills from a patient, enters into numerous short-term relationships and herself the demons of the horrors of her own childhood. carries with you. Thus, J.D. also finds out that his mother is in turn a product of her upbringing – in a nasty Christmas scene. The impact of that scene is enjoyed because it almost looks like a parody. That is the easy part of the scenario: it sometimes borders on the stereotype, as if a checklist has been completed. It may have all really happened that way, but it doesn’t really feel like that.

During the credits, the film first shows photos and then the real home video footage of the Vance family. Then it is striking how amazingly well the cast (especially Close) resembles the people they portray.

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