HILLBILLY ELEGY (2020) – My rating: 8.5/10

Hillbilly Elegy is a drama directed by Ron Howard from a screenplay by Vanessa Taylor and based on the 2016 memoir of the same name by J. D. Vance. The film follows a Yale law student who must return to his family in Ohio after a family emergency. Powerful performances by the cast that could have easily been nominated for best picture.

A sermon looms as Hillbilly Elegy opens in 1997 in Jackson, Kentucky. J.D. Vance (Gabriel Basso – adult / Owen Asztalos – young adult) is a teenager who is on summer vacation visiting his Kentuckeon side of the family, along with his mother Beverly “Bev” Vance (Amy Adams), his sister Lindsay Vance (Haley Bennett), his grandmother Bonnie “Mawaw” Vance (Glen Close), and his grandfather Pawaw Vance (Bo Hopkins). As they are loading their car up for the ride back to Ohio, JD rides off on his bike to take a last dip in the lake when he encounters the local bullies who hold him underwater and shout insults at him.  The men of JD’s family show up and save the day. On their way back home JD reflects on how hard his mother’s life must have been while raising him and his sister without the help of a father.

Fourteen years later, JD is attending Yale and working three jobs. He is dating a young woman, Usha (Freida Pinto). She has a summer internship in Washington D.C. and JD hopes to get one there as well. He needs $21,000 to pay for his next semester.  While attending the first of week-long interview dinners, (in hopes of landing the internship), JD gets a call from his sister, Lindsay. His mom is in the hospital after overdosing on heroin. Lindsay is overwhelmed by the situation as she works and has three children. She asks JD to come home, leaving him feeling conflicted about his week of interviews at Yale.

Hillbilly Elegy moves on with JD moving through his life growing up with his mother, sister, and grandparents.  Bev bounced from boyfriend to boyfriend but mostly maintained her job as a nurse until she roller-skated through the hospital halls high on drugs.  From there, life for Bev went pretty much downhill.  JD ended up living with Mawaw as he maintained his studies until he became friends with the wrong crowd.  Eventually, JD ended up going to Yale.  The events of JD’s life were rough, making it to Yale was nothing short of a miracle.  I thought Hillbill Elegy was an emotional well-told story.  It was criticized for its depiction of the poor however, it was what it was, as this movie is based on JD Vance’s memoirs.  Amy Adams’ performance was outstanding and definitely Oscar-worthy but the Academy snubbed her.  On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, 26% of 245 critics gave the film a positive review, with an average rating of 4.60/10. The website’s critic’s consensus reads, “With the form of an awards-season hopeful but the soul of a bland melodrama, Hillbilly Elegy strands some very fine actors in the not-so-deep South.” The Independent reported that the film was widely criticized for “perpetuating stereotypes about the poor”.  I enjoyed the movie and appreciated the end that showed closure for the main characters.  Hillbilly Elegy is currently streaming on Netflix — Check It Out!

[HILLBILLY ELEGY is Oscar-nominated at the 93rd Academy Awards for Best: Supporting Actress as well as Makeup and Hairstyling — Totaling 2 Nominations]


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