Review of Hillbilly Elegy written by Vanessa Taylor and directed by Ron Howard Rating *****
Everything I heard about this film was negative. “A dumpster fire,” said one film credit. “I watched it, so you don’t have to,” said another. It’s a good thing I didn’t listen to that nonsense. This Ron Howard film ranks right up there with his best work.
I can only surmise that the criticism of the film was political. Author J.D. Vance, who wrote the memoir for which the film is based, is a right-wing media darling. Ron Howard, the director, has made no effort to hide his anti-Trump sentiments. Any attempt to try and tie this film to the political landscape misses the point entirely. This film is a snapshot of one family and their individual struggles, while also touching on other themes such as family, poverty, drug addiction, health insurance, job loss, education, opportunity, and a host of other relevant topics.
Having read a few of the negative reviews, I didn’t have high hopes. I was looking for caricatures, overacting, and stereotypes. None of those appeared. What I saw instead was a realistic depiction of rural life that is recognizable to millions of people. I didn’t see any political viewpoints because the film was not about politics.
For every critic who complained about Glen Close’s performance, I say watch the end credits where there is home video of the real person she portrayed. The same is true for Amy Adams. Was her performance over the top? Not if you look at it from the viewpoint of a drug-addicted mother who became a parent at the age of eighteen.
While all the actors did excellent work, the two actors who portrayed J.D. Vance, Gabriel Basso and Owen Asztalos, were outstanding. The two performances blended into one.
If there were one scene that felt out of place, it would be the scene where Glen Close sets her husband on fire. It was a flashback scene, but there wasn’t anything leading up to it that would leave you to believe that the mild-mannered man seen throughout the film was capable of instigating such a response.
This is one time where the critics got it wrong. See it on Netflix.