‘Hillbilly Elegy’ comes close to being worthy of praise. Still, its unsympathetic protagonist and sketchy message ultimately undermine a film carried by two outstanding performances by Glenn Close and Amy Adams.
‘Hillbilly Elegy,’ an adaptation of the book of the same name, tells the story of J.D. Vance’s upbringing, from his troubled childhood to his entry into adulthood with his girlfriend.
Much has been said about this adaptation of the controversial novel, which has been debated endlessly. But, leaving all controversy aside, the sad truth is that Ron Howard’s film never reaches its full potential by tackling those issues head-on. Instead, ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ often comes off as a struggle between what Vance would like for you to take away from his story and Howard’s effort to humanize it as much as possible, with mixed results. The thing is, J.D. Vance is the weakest part of his own story. He is very unlikeable and makes choices that often leave you questioning why we should be rooting for him, which becomes a problem when the film assumes you are entirely on his side. Unfortunately, it doesn’t help either that actor Gabriel Basso does not live up to the rest of the cast’s talent.
Speaking of performances, it is essentially what holds the movie throughout. Amy Adams is spectacular, delivering a heartbreaking performance as a character that often feels mistreated and judged. She is simply superb. However, it is Glenn Close who steals the show. Her transformative turn as ‘Mawmaw’ is incredible and should earn her recognition for being the heart of this movie. Her absence is felt in every scene she isn’t in.
In the end, Netflix’s ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ is a fine movie with some incredible performances that, unfortunately, doesn’t live up to its potential, in large part because of its unlikeable lead.