Hillbilly Elegy

Sad, boilerplate underdog movie

Based on the much-criticized, conservative autobiography of J.D. Vance, this is the story of a lad raised in Appalachia and Ohio who managed to cast off his roots, survive the Marines and make it to Yale. Now, on the verge of landing his dream job, he’s drawn back to his Hicksville home to deal with his addict mother. 

Much has been written about the source material, and I suggest you read up on it before deciding on taking in Ron Howard’s bland adaptation, as there’s far more to say than I have room for here. Howard has sidestepped most of the book’s politically debatable bits, but this leaves only a shallow, fairly meaningless melodrama.

Needless to say, Glenn Close is meticulous as his strict Mamaw (grandma), and Amy Adams puts in a volatile, highly nuanced performance as his flawed mother. Both are headed for Oscar noms. True, there’s some serious rural scenery-chewing going on here, but I’d rather watch pros like these two engage in it than lesser mortals. 

This depressing assemblage of self-pitying Appalachian tropes offers nothing really new, but I’m glad I saw it, if only for the acting. (116 min) 

Streaming now on Netflix.