George Clark’s review published on Letterboxd:
2020 Releases Ranked-HERE
Ron Howard, man, what are you thinking? Hillbilly Elegy really doesn’t live up to the somewhat hype it received upon it’s first trailer....but, we all expected that didn’t we. Directed by Ron Howard and starring Glenn Close, Amy Adams, Gabriel Basso, Haley Bennett, Freida Pinto and Bo Hopkins, the story follows a Yale law student who returns to his Ohio hometown after a family emergency.
Based on the 2016 memoir “Hillbilly Elegy” written by J. D. Vance (a book I have never read) I went into this completely blind and, whilst I didn’t hate it, I didn’t enjoy it either. It’s not completely awful but it’s odd, strange and far from Howard’s best. Now, the film does look somewhat good with its cinematography standing out nicely above the other abysmal parts, but apart from that, and the opening 20 minutes that were by far the best in the film, not much else stood out.
Everyone deserves a chance to like this movie, it’s definitely got some good qualities. Yet for me, everything (other than one plot point) failed to impress me. The way the film cuts to flashback upon flashback, time and time again, doesn’t allow the film to develop upon its rather simple premise and, to be quite simple, the films portrayal of people living like this is off putting. Of course there will always be individuals who are “less smart” but to portray them as angry and less intelligent as whole really didn’t work for the film as despite me never knowing any “hillbilly” individuals, I am more than sure they don’t all deserve to be depicted like this.
However, the family dynamic really stood out to me. Most notably the relationship between the mother and son. This relationship is very similar to the one I share with my own mother. One of anguish, bitterness and overall harshness at times but also one of love, kindness and help that has moved me and my family through difficult times. It’s a plot point that very much hit home, how the son acts, how the mother acts and the many interactions they share throughout really managed to connect with me more than I expected. I’m thankful that my experience hasn’t gone as far as this, of course I am also to blame, and I’m thankful it never will be like this but watching it, watching how the actions of both impact one another, really managed to work for me and slightly improve the film overall.
Ultimately though, when the film focused on how your family experience can shape your future, it managed to connect with me. However, setting aside that aspect, from a critical standpoint, it’s just not good enough. Whilst the acting may be decent, the source material, way it’s executed and overall feel of the film just feels off and at the end of the day, when it’s all said and done and the film has concluded, it’s one I will more than likely quickly forget about and despite a small connection to one tiny detail, it overall wasn’t a film I enjoyed.