Home>Entertainment>Concerts and Movies>Netflix Movie Review: ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ a moving family drama with Oscar calibre performances

Netflix Movie Review: ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ a moving family drama with Oscar calibre performances

Hillbilly Elegy
Hillbilly Elegy

GLENN Close has been nominated in the Oscars seven times. As best supporting actress, she got nominated for “The World According to Garp” in 1983 (Jessica Lange won for “Tootsie”), “The Big Chill” in 1984 (Linda Hunt won for “Year of Living Dangerously”), and “The Natural” in 1985 (Peggy Ashcroft won for “A Passage to India”.)

As best actress, she was nominated in 1988 for “Fatal Attraction” (Cher won for “Moonstruck”), in 1989 for “Dangerous Liaisons” (Jodie Foster won for “The Accused”), in 2012 for “Albert Nobbs” (Meryl Streep won as Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady”) and in 2019 for “The Wife” (Olivia Colman won for “The Favourite”). She’s now the most nominated actress without a single win.

Next to her is Amy Adams, who’s been nominated six times and also no wins. Amy was first nominated in 2006 for “Junebug”, in 2009 for “Doubt”, in 2011 for “The Fighter”, in 2013 for “The Master”, in 2015 for “American Hustle” and in 2019 for “Vice”.

Now, Glenn and Amy are acting together in “Hillbilly Elegy” where they play mother and daughter. They both deliver first rate performances and for sure, they’ll get nominations again. Amy has the longer and much showier role, so she might be nominated as best actress. Glenn has lesser exposure and is no doubt playing a supporting role. But if Oscar voters would think that the only central character in the movie is that of the male lead who narrates it, then both Amy and Glenn will be nominated as supporting actresses.

“Hillbilly Elegy” (first shown in theaters to qualify for the Oscars then streamed in Netflix) is based on the best selling 2016 book of JD Vance, “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis”. Hillbilly is a somewhat derogatory term used in describing uncouth natives living in the hinterlands of the Appalachian Mountains that span several states like Kentucky and Ohio and has its own marked hillbilly culture.

Those who have read the book are openly criticizing the film. The book covers so much territory, with Vance analyzing the very personal story of his family from his drama-filled childhood to his experiences in the Marines and as a struggling law student in Yale.

The movie, as directed by Ron Howard (“A Beautiful Mind”), to declutter the narrative, chooses to dwell on his tumultuous relationships with his mother, Bev (Amy), a nurse who is so hooked into drugs, and his grandma who he calls Mamaw (Glenn), who eventually raised him, and also with his sister, Lindsay (Hayley Bennett).

His Mamaw comes from hillbilly county in Kentucky then moved to Middletown, Ohio. The story is one of personal triumph for JD Vance who had a traumatic childhood in the late 90s and early 2000s, marked by poverty and aggravated by his mom’s addiction and her failed relationships, moving from one man to another.

JD’s love for his wayward mom is a great example of tough love. He would have ended like the other rednecks (a term he abhors) in their town had he not struggled really hard to achieve upward mobility on his own.

And this is the reason why those who have read the book feel disappointed, because it focuses on the melodramatic relationship of JD with his family and all the politically and socially relevant commentaries he made in his book (like why poor whites in Appalachia supported Trump) are missing in the film version.

The film starts in 2011 with Vance applying for apprenticeship in a prestigious law office in Connecticut, supported by his girlfriend, Usha (Frieda Pinto of “Slumdog Millionaire”). Then it goes back and forth from his past as a child with troubled upbringing to his present efforts to forward his law career. He gets a call from his sister that their mom just overdosed on heroin and he has to come home.

He has a final interview at the law office at Connecticut the next day, but he had to drive for ten hours to get to his mom in Ohio then drive back again to Connecticut to make it to his pivotal interview. To make things seem worse, his mom doesn’t even seem to appreciate his efforts to help her and find a rehab facility for her.

As a child, JD Vance is played by Owen Asztalos and, as a grown up, by Gabriel Basso, and the casting is really amazing as you’d really believe that the boy JD will really grow up to be the adult JD. They look alike and both deliver first rate performances. We really get to sympathize and root for them.

The film runs for two hours but it never drags as it’s so well edited. And of course, the acting is consistently riveting. Adams gained weight for her role and is given more dramatic highlights that make her Bev as an irresponsible and negligent mom quite antagonistic. She is truly repulsive in that scene where she and the boy JD have a fight in the car that ends up with her chasing him in someone else’s house.

Glenn Close is more lovable as the cranky but supportive Mamaw, who ultimately becomes JD’s guardian, prodding him to succeed to break the cycle of poverty in their life. In the film’s end credits, we see home footage showing the real Mamaw and you’ll be astonished with the way Glenn transformed herself to truly match the character she plays, even with the way she walks.

Despite the complaints of some quarters, we believe Ron Howard did his best to make a sensible film version of JD’s hit book. Like in his other films, he doesn’t pull any fancy tricks but just let the characters and the affecting narrative flow naturally. And it’s all very affecting indeed as we were blowing our nose as the film ended.

Publication Source :    People's Journal
Mario Bautista
Former member: Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino (Urian)