the fresh films reviews

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Hillbilly Elegy (2020)

Ron Howard


Hillbilly Elegy

115 minutes

Brian Grazer
Ron Howard
Karen Lunder

Screenwriter (based on the book by J. D. Vance):
Vanessa Taylor

Cast includes:

Beverly "Bev" Vance Amy Adams
Bonnie "Mamaw" Vance Glenn Close
J. D. Vance Gabriel Basso
Young J. D. Owen Asztalos
Lindsay Vance Haley Bennett
Usha Freida Pinto
Papaw Vance Bo Hopkins -



There is at least three quarters of a very good movie in Ron Howard's latest Netflix distributed film called Hillbilly Elegy. As based on the memoirs of J. D. Vance, our protagonist, the film follows a working class family from Kentucky/Ohio through a couple of generations, seen from the perspective of Vance himself as he moves upwards on the social ladder and is about to graduate from Yale Law School. The portrait of his drug-addicted, mentally unstable mother (Amy Adams) and his steely, no-nonsense grandmother (Glenn Close), women who have struggled in each their own way coping with the less than ideal hands they were dealt in life, feels partly apologetic, partly self-congratulatory. Of course, that's an interpretation. It's not what Howard tells us explicitly, which actually is very little. The script is lacking the depth required to lift these female characters from stereotypes and into real people, despite the best efforts of Amy Adams and Glenn Close, both of whom give brilliant technical performances. There's too little to indicate how they turned out the way they did. Bo Hopkins' character Papaw Vance, for instance, is referenced as an important logical piece in the puzzle, but he is never drawn out or included in the plot to any satisfactory degree. And Ron Howard directs his scenes as separate entities; there's no real connection between where these people came from and the standpoint from which they now act and reflect. Still, despite these narrative shortcomings, Hillbilly Elegy is an interesting watch with valid points and some very good isolated scenes, not least a couple of turning points involving the young J. D., who is wonderfully played by Owen Asztalos one in a car with his mother, and one in a car with his grandmother. It's just a shame that Asztalos' complete performance isn't complemented by a more complete narrative.

Copyright 01.01.2021 Fredrik Gunerius Fevang