HILLBILLY ELEGY Review — A Serviceable Vehicle for Award-Worthy Performances

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Lisa Johnson Mandell’s Hillbilly Elegy review says performances by Amy Adams and Glenn Close are sure to strum up Oscar attention.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis was written by J. D. Vance, a story of addiction, relationships, one family’s take on  Appalachian values, and overcoming incredible odds. The book soared to the top of The New York Times Best Seller list, as well as many others, and stayed there for quite a while.

It was only a matter of time before Ron Howard brought it to the big screen. Who better to tell this distinctly down home American tale?

But it ain’t pretty. We see J.D (Gabriel Basso — it would have been Matt Damon 15 years ago) as he lumbers toward adulthood. Born in Kentucky and moving with his entire family to Ohio when he was a young boy, they bring little pieces of Apalachia with them, including drug abuse, domestic violence, thick accents and fierce loyalty. When we catch up with J.D., he has made his way to law school at Yale, and is interviewing for internships as he reminisces and deals with a past that won’t let go.

Amy Adams is remarkable as his hopelessly hostile and occasionally charming, drug addicted mother, but it’s Glenn Close’s total transformation into J.D.’s dentally challenged, frizzy haired Mawmaw that truly amazes. Few actresses would deign to “go there,” and fewer still could make Mawmaw feel real, rather than a characature. Close achieves the nearly impossible.

I’m always partial to books and movies that take me into another culture, another world, and give me a look into something intense and important outside of my own frame of reference. While the storytelling is somewhat less than fresh, nuanced or inventive, it does the job adequately, and is elevated by the performances of masters.

Rated R

1 Hour 56 Minutes

If, after reading this Hillbilly Elegy review you have a hankerin’ to see it, watch it now on Netflix.

Lisa Johnson Mandell’s Hillbilly Elegy review says performances by Amy Adams and Glenn Close are sure to strum up Oscar attention.

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Lisa Johnson Mandell

Lisa Johnson Mandell

Lisa Johnson Mandell is an award winning journalist, author and film/TV critic. She can be heard regularly on Cumulus radio stations throughout the US, and on BBC Radio.

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