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MOVIES: Hillbilly Elegy - Review



Hillbilly Elegy is one of the worst films of the year, there’s no sugar-coating this. I went in wanting to like this one, there’s a lot of A-List talent assembled here both in front and behind of the camera: Amy Adams, Glenn Close and Ron Howard are normally reliable and Amy Adams, if there was any justice in the world, would have multiple Oscars by now. But sadly she is not going to get one for Hillbilly Elegy, where she suffers from a major case of overacting that drags the film down around her. Even though she’s not the principal main character, her role in the film is so important that Hillbilly Elegy lives or dies on Adams’ performance, and I came away feeling nothing for the characters in the film, and in a film geared towards creating an emotional impact on the audience that is not a good thing at all.

Ron Howard’s direction is competent and thankfully the film does not overstay its welcome, coming in at just under two hours long. Unfortunately, what we get in those two hours is fairly standard, the film is adapted from a book by former Yale Law Student J.D. Vance, based off his own experiences when he was younger. Framed around an urgent phone call that pulls him back to his Ohio hometown in the middle of a series of important interviews that will define his future, J.D. reflects on the experiences that led him to this point with all the subtlety of a freight train. The voiceover narration means that characters don’t get the depth nor attention that they warrant, and as a result the whole film feels completely two-dimensional and hollow. It’s far from the aspiring rags-to-riches, heart-of-gold film about humanising flawed people that it sets out to be. It doesn’t offer the characters any degree of sympathising and what’s worse, is that the redemption and recovery narrative always rings false – I never quite believed any of it here, I never quite got the connection between J.D. and any of his family, which is so vital for this film in order for it to work.

Unfortunately, Hillbilly Elegy isn’t the fun kind of awful, either. It doesn’t have enough energy and heart to it to make it enjoyable and it plods along at a snails pace. The dialogue ranges to okay at best to laughable at worst (there’s a Terminator reference that makes Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One look like Pulitzer-prize worthy writing in comparison), and there’s nothing here that seperates the film from your usual Oscar-bait material. Everybody tries too hard, even Amy Adams and Glenn Close bringing an air of overacting to the table that doesn't feel, rendering there nothing to write home about as it just falls apart at the seams.

Hillbilly Elegy is a story, often told many times around awards season, that you’ll have heard over and over again. Its dialogue lacks the depth it needs feeling more like quotes stolen from that one Facebook friend that posts too much on the site that have been in turn, stolen from others, and the film could have earned its heart if it had sacrificed its big, grand, Oscar-baity moments in favour of making its characters feel so much more sympathetic and real – something that the film is trying to accomplish for the entirety of its 117 minute runtime and never fully does so. Netflix are going to have to better if they want Academy success.

Hillbilly Elegy is currently available to stream on Netflix internationally.