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  • Writer's pictureS.J.

'Hillbilly Elegy' Review: Ron Howard's Rural Drama With Amy Adams & Glenn Close

Haley Bennett, Gabriel Basso and Amy Adams sitting

Every year around this time you’ll see a couple award season contenders that just aren’t your thing but you see the appeal anyway, added to that there will be at the very least one that just misses altogether. Good example last year was ‘The Goldfinch’ (which I doubt you remember much of) and this year that unfortunate privilege seems to fall on Hillbilly Elegy. Academy Award-winning Ron Howard in director’s chair, Hans Zimmer composing alongside David Fleming, a script based on a best-selling book and starring Oscar-bait-y duo of Amy Adams and Glenn Close tells you all about the intent behind the film, making you wish that any sort of intent or heart would come through the actual piece of work. That just doesn’t seem to be the case.

The situation that we’re essentially dropped into is a tumultuous family life of the Vance household; son J.D. (Owen Asztalos when younger, Gabriel Basso when older), daughter Lindsay (Haley Bennett), grandma Mamaw (Close) and the kids’ mom Bev (Adams). In present day, J.D. is a law student at Yale who needs to drive back to his small childhood town in Ohio when Bev is hospitalised, still struggling with drug addiction as she has moved on to heroin. J.D. has a job interview the next day, girlfriend Usha (Freida Pinto) waiting at home and he needs to find Bev a rehab with short notice. The film then flashes back between J.D.’s childhood and the current day. There’s an attempt to look at lower class’ struggles in rural areas as well as the link between addiction, family relationships and generational interactions but it all comes off as quite half-heartedly done.

Howard has plenty of options to which he could focus on here but opts to touch on absolutely everything, resulting in not explaining anything. Even the cast looks to be walking on good faith alone as if they have no purpose. Close is terribly miscast in her role which resulted in me not buying the character at all, Basso basically acts just as a narrator with nothing to do and Asztalos tries his best with a cardboard character. Only Adams makes her character believable as Bev comes off both broken and terrifying. It’s hard to act your role if the role is in a movie that has no proper story – as this is Hillbilly Elegy’s biggest problem. More things happen in 20 seconds of aftermath recap before credits than in nearly two hours preceding them.

A filmmaker like Howard should be able to ask why make a film in the first place and the answer can’t be that you want an award shower like you’re doing with this film. This just looks like you don’t understand those who are less fortunate than you and you try to capitalise on their journeys.

Smileys: Nothing stands out

Frowneys: Story, directing, acting

I only realised afterwards that Zimmer scored this, barely even remembered there being a score.


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