“I don’t care if you hate me. I ain’t in it for popularity.”

Everyone has a story to tell — some stories more impactful than others. The autobiography, Hillbilly Elegy, based on the upbringing of JD Vance, is a mediocre adaptation that fails to impact its audiences.

J.D. (Gabriel Basso) is a college man trying to earn a prestigious internship at a Washington D.C. law firm. He’s worked hard to get here, budgeting his finances to be able to attend Yale University. During an evening of formal internship interviews, J.D. receives a phone call from his sister Lindsay (Haley Bennett), informing him of his mother’s recent relapse. This time, it’s heroin. J.D. must now head to Ohio to deal with his mother’s drug induced antics, and face the past he’s tried so hard to leave behind.

There’s an odd feeling you may be left with after seeing Hillbilly Elegy. We all know the acting talents of Amy Adams and Glenn Close. These are two female powerhouses with many significant films decorating their illustrious career. However, neither one of them gives a great performance. Adams plays J.D.’s mother, Bev — a single mother and nurse, who falls victim to drug addiction. It’s a character that speaks volumes, but in fact, Adams is just plain dull. She is empty, and will leaves you craving more. Somehow I don’t blame her, because I know what she’s capable of. Adams has those scenes that border on emotional, but it never quite gets there. Adams’ moments with Close injects some life into the movie, but it’s not enough to get this film off the ground. Close comes, well, close to delivering an amazing performance. Her lines as the “no BS” grandmother are sure to be memorable ones. But too often her character loses steam — coming off more goofy than strict or caring. The rest of the performances are lackluster and forgettable. The cast fails to light up the screen and, for that, forces the movie to become extremely boring.

Directed by Ron Howard, Hillbilly Elegy doesn’t lend itself to stunning shots within the film. Sure we can make excuses for Howard’s directing style, but excuses are hard to come by for the man. Howard has turned into a generic director, or maybe he always has been. With Apollo 13 or A Beautiful Mind, Howard had the make-up for a great storyteller. But soon after duds like 2011’s The Dilemma, he lost his way. His directing piggy backs off of younger directors – grasping at straws to make this a gripping film. One shot particularly reminds me of Derek Cianfrance’s, The Place Beyond the Pines. The name “Ron Howard” may have carried weight at one point in time, but now often goes hand and hand with mediocrity.

Hillbilly Elegy is a typical “rags to riches” story, which by saying that, plainly means that it doesn’t offer much. The film goes up and down, trying to convey a level of emotion that will shake the audiences to their core. This may be a meaningful story to the Vance family, but it’s better left to the safety of the pages within the book. Some stories are meant to be told on the big screen — Hillbilly Elegy is not one of those stories. At least, not this time.

Hillbilly Elegy

Directed by: Ron Howard

Starring: Amy Adams, Gabriel Basso, Haley Bennett, Frieda Pinto, Owen Asztalos, and Glenn Close


2 thoughts on “REVIEW: HILLBILLY ELEGY (2020)

  1. I enjoyed reading your take on this Sarah! I think you’re right about Ron Howard even though I’d never really thought about his recent filmography very deeply. All of the projects he’s been attached to in recent years have been pretty bland.

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