I have a vague memory of a book called “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis” coming out a few years ago. I probably heard something about it on the news or one of my parents may have mentioned it, but either way it didn’t make any sort of impression on me. I only recently started to become interested in it, and I began to do a little research.
Apparently it was a memoir written by some guy named J.D. Vance, a “venture capitalist,” according to Wikipedia. It’s about his time growing up in Middletown, Ohio, and how his family’s Appalachian values influenced his childhood. I guess a lot of conservatives really liked it, but many others were not so kind.
But it’s time to stop talking about the book. After all, I haven’t actually read it, and I can’t go on discussing something I haven’t properly experienced. Besides, this is a review of the film adaptation, which I am now all too familiar with.
The film “Hillbilly Elegy” follows Vance as he grows up in Middletown, Ohio. He has to deal with his mom, Beverly, and the many issues she finds herself tied up in. His grandmother, referred to as “Mamaw,” tries to keep things together, but is generally unsuccessful.
The most noteworthy thing about “Hillbilly Elegy” is, without a doubt, how insanely negative the critical reaction to it has been. Its Rotten Tomatoes score currently stands at 25% approval — not exactly the score desired of a potential Oscar hopeful.
To be totally honest, I assumed it was going to be terrible. Given how overwhelmingly negative the reviews have been, I figured it couldn’t possibly be anything else.
The film’s sole achievement is it’s only kind of bad. Don’t get me wrong, it’s undoubtedly a failure and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone, but it isn’t as awful as most reviews would lead you to believe.
I was excited to see how the acting in the film was. On the whole, it’s fairly mixed. Glenn Close is pretty good as the grandma, but I frankly expected a little better from her. Amy Adams let me down, especially since she’s been fantastic in so many movies in the past decade. But easily the worst actor in the whole movie is Gabriel Basso, who just so happens to be playing Vance himself. I didn’t believe him as the character, and I honestly didn’t like him very much.
One of the more interesting issues with the film is how thematically confused it is. From what I understand, they tried to remove a lot of the political aspects of the source material, but this leaves the film feeling a little bit empty. It’s simultaneously a tribute to and a rejection of the values he considers so important to his upbringing, and the film never quite picks a lane.
As for parts I liked? Other than Glenn Close, there isn’t much else worth noting. Pretty much everything else about it is either bad or flat-out mediocre. The final product is just fairly dull — not terrible enough to be enjoyable, and not good enough to be worth watching on its own merits.
I really don’t see any reason for anyone to watch “Hillbilly Elegy.” Even though the film removes a lot of the conservative text, it still isn’t going to appeal to a liberal audience, and conservative audiences are probably better off reading the book. Don’t bother with this one.