HILLBILLY ELEGY | FILM REVIEW
Dir: Ron Howard (15, 116 mins)
A sluggish drama, based on JD Vance’s memoir, that struggles to convey anything we haven’t seen before, done better and less clumsily. Yale law student JD, played by Gabriel Basso, is struggling to get by – not in the same league as the other students he’s mixing with, he comes from a hillbilly family in Ohio. A well-known bunch of ‘rednecks’ (a term he abhors), these Appalachian folk have had their share of dramas, as we find out via flashbacks when JD heads home to help his mother Bev into rehab before an important interview for his educational future.
The film pinballs between JD’s current journey and his childhood, bearing witness to his mother’s erratic moods via Amy Adams’ spirited performance. Also around is Glenn Close’s sweatshirted, bespectacled matriarch Mamaw, who from her own past woes knows what her daughter is going through. Sympathetic and hard-nosed by turns, she is the heart of the film.
A family drama, then, spanning the years but never really engaging, despite the best efforts of all involved. Owen Asztalos as the young JD is effective as he moves from partner to partner with his mother, struggling to fit in and running with the wrong crowd despite his educational aptitude. Adams, as a former nurse sacked for rollerskating through a hospital whilst high, has demons of her own, flaring up at her children after her own early abuse and scenery chewing with aplomb as she battles with addiction.
Despite all these potential fireworks, the film feels blander than it should. It’s hard to care about anyone because of a plodding pace, some forced flashbacks and a painfully expositional phone call that should be an emotional climax but falls flat. No doubt it’s a better read than watch.
Streaming on Netflix now
words KEIRON SELF