Ron Howard adapts the 2016 memoir by J. D. Vance ‘Hillbilly elegy’, about the life of a son of two generations of Kentucky women. The Grandmother ‘Mawmaw’ (played by Glenn Close) and her daughter, his mother Bev (played by Amy Adams) are embodiments of Appalachian values, and their story is told through the son J.D.’s (played by Gabriel Basso) perspective. In this family drama, J.D. returns from his studies at Yale to Bev who is now struggling with getting clean from heroin addiction, and he will have to make the choice whether to stay and help her or know when it is time to move on in life.
The standouts for ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ is mainly from Amy Adams and Glenn Close’s performances. The entire movie is filled with Oscar-baiting monologues for both the actresses and they do the best that they can with the material. Glenn Close transforms into her role, and I was really impressed with what she was able to do with her performance. Amy Adams as an abusive mother is tough to watch in a lot of moments because of how good Adams is, but again there doesn’t seem to be much she does with the role other than being a little one-note and stereotypical. I wish there were more interplay and development between Close’s and Adam’s characters but the narrative is firm with J.D. Gabriel Basso gives a decent performance, although it can seem a little surface level given the character’s story being front and center.
The bigger issue with the film is its screenplay. There are a lot of choices that seem surface level, and you don’t really get to explore them very well. It’s tough to know what the intent was in the story, whether you are supposed to admire or admonish the ‘tough love’ nature of J.D.’s relationship with his mother and grandmother. I also wish that the runtime were cut down a little bit because the overall film feels more sluggish and could have a bit of expositional fat trimmed from its runtime.
Overall, there is some great acting in this film, but the film itself is rather lackluster and doesn’t delve too deep into the characters they are trying to showcase.