Friday Film Review--"Hillbilly Elegy"

Dec 18, 2020

Libby Wadman, with this week’s Friday Film Review, praises the new film from Ron Howard, “Hillbilly Elegy”, saying it’s beautifully made and even hopeful—but it’s not a feel-good movie.

Well despite the months of Covid interrupting our lives, the good news is there are still films out there worth a watch. Fortunately, director Ron Howard has provided one of them in the form of “Hillbilly Elegy”.

“Hillbilly Elegy” is J. D. Vance’s retelling of how and why his family left Kentucky for greener pastures in Ohio, only to continue to experience financial hardship and emotional upheaval due in large part to the opioid epidemic. The flashbacks construct the foundation of Vance’s present day, providing insight into how the boy who struggled to grow up became the man who realized his dreams.

As usual, Howard has delivered a beautifully done film, but to better appreciate the point of the film, it might be helpful as a viewer to understand Howard’s motivation. The full title of the book is “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis”. Ron Howard has said in interviews that for him “Hillbilly Elegy” is more of a family‘s drama of emotional rescue and survival. It celebrates the women of Vance’s family, particularly his Mamaw. Howard chose to focus on the family aspect of the book rather than any possible political features. He wanted to accurately portray Vance’s family experience and at the same time  present an authentic look at a particular region in our country and call out, but not delve into, its issues.

Director Howard has put together a magnificent cast that delivers from start to finish. Amy Adams as Vance’s mom, Bev, and Glenn Close as his Mamaw, are both excellent in their roles as women who have struggled with far too much in life. Owen Asztalos as young J. D. and Gabriel Brasso as adult J. D. provide wonderful performances and are eerily believable as being the same person. As shown in the end credits, all of the cast members, with a little help from prosthetics and makeup, do a remarkable job of capturing the physicality of their characters.

Now, while “Hillbilly Elegy” is a very powerful film and a good watch it is also an extremely difficult watch by virtue of the subject. The film is so well done, the events that unfold will horrify, frustrate and upset the viewer. This is not a feel-good movie in any way, shape, or form, but, will leave the viewer satisfied and hopeful knowing that Vance survived to write his memoir and that he feels there is hope. He wants people to know Mamaw’s message that “Where we come from is who we are, but we choose everyday who we become.”

“Hillbilly Elegy”, now streaming for free on Netflix, is a well-paced one hour and 56 minutes in length and is rated R for language throughout the film, drug content and some violence.

This is Libby Wadman with the Friday Film Review reminding you that film is always fun and fascinating.