Hillbilly Elegy

Hillbilly Elegy ★★½

⚠️50%
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This overlong exploration of what life is like outside of Appalachia was a film that had plenty of hype for Oscar season. I have seen some talk of how terrible Adams is here, but I believe she was solid. The clear Oscar player is Close, but because of how this is being received, I’m not sure if she’s a lock either. A Yale law student drawn back to his hometown grapples with family history, Appalachian values and the American dream. The major flaw here is J.D. Vance himself. Both actors, old and young, didn’t quite fit with the idea that the story was trying to push. We are supposed to like and relate to the main character, but Vance is not necessarily a likable or relatable character. He means well, but his attitude is difficult to root for. The story also constantly preaches family and how it is so important, but this family never acts like they like each other.

I understand the portrayal of “the struggle,” but there was rarely a moment where they stopped and had a normal conversation. Mamaw is essentially the only character that cares, but she was also agitated from beginning to end. Ron Howard goes for a feel-good story here, but I’m not sure if that was the correct route. From the drug-addictions to the family-fights, the film deals with tragic elements. Instead of diving a bit deeper, it stays surface-level. It is honestly carried by the standout performances that make it feel better written than it is. If anyone is going to criticize how it portrays Appalachia, I feel like I am allowed to do that. I was born and raised in a “Holler,” and I grew up in the mountains of eastern Kentucky. This film looks at many of these individuals as angry or even a little less intelligent. And, admittedly, there are always those who aren’t as “smart,” but I did not love the portrayals here at all.

My hometown was full of some of the most respectful, wonderful, and overall happy individuals I have ever known. I also thought the “hills of Kentucky-accents” were a little off. Granted, they leave Kentucky in the film, but I just did not feel what they were going for. All of this being said, it has the makings of a great story. I haven’t read the book, so I can’t speak upon it, but there is a lot that could have been fleshed out. Amy Adam’s drug addiction, Mamaw’s influence on Vance’s life (which is slightly hit on), and the idea of accepting your past are all story-points that injected life into this bland film. It’s just a lot of filler and narration. I do hope Close is still considered, as she steals every scene, but this does not feel like an Oscar film at all. It feels like bland Oscar bait with standout and somewhat powerful scenes. I’m not as low as many will be, but Hillbilly Elegy should have been better. Ron Howard has not been consistent as of late.

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