Movie Review: Hillbilly Elegy


Image from IMDB

“Hillbilly Elegy” is a movie based on J.D. Vance’s journey through a troubled childhood as he enters adulthood.

“Hillbilly Elegy” is a brutally realistic film directed by Ron Howard and based on a memoir written by J.D. Vance. This film tells the story of J.D.’s (Gabriel Basso’s) rough past growing up in Ohio with a heroin-addict mother and how he became of the prestigious college, Yale, despite his troubled childhood and abusive relationship at the hands of his mother.

In my opinion, the main draw for “Hillbilly Elegy” is how realistic the characters feel, as they are based on real people. Their personalities feel distinct from the average tropes in movies and television. My favorite character in the movie, and the most memorable in my opinion, is J.D.’s grandma, Mamaw (Glenn Close), who serves as his mentor and essentially his mother. Throughout the movie, Mamaw helps J.D. overcome the many obstacles before him and keeps him determined to follow his dreams, despite the grim reality of the world.

Another character that I think was handled well was J.D.’s mother, Bev Vance (Amy Adams). There are many flashbacks throughout the film where you see her personality vary wildly. At times, she’s very endearing and kind to her children. She’s always far more down to earth than the average mother and treats them as if they are her close friends. Other times, however, Bev goes completely unhinged, and abuses J.D. both physically and mentally. On top of this, you see how she handles her heroin addiction, as she always comes up with excuses and blames others for it. I think the influence of drugs on her character is one of the most interesting things about the movie, because unlike most other films, the director doesn’t shy away from showing how she was affected just to get a PG-13 rating.

Another thing  that I enjoyed about “Hillbilly Elegy” was how J.D. had to adapt to social norms that he didn’t grow up with. Although it might be chalked off as a minor detail, J.D. having to adapt really allows you to see through J.D.’s eyes in his situation and makes you believe that he is somewhere that he doesn’t belong. Watching J.D. figure out how to survive in his new environment at Yale is interesting because it shows that even though he struggled with large issues that most other people aren’t used to, such as his mother being addicted to drugs, he still isn’t able to deal with things like “correct table manners” as a direct result of where he grew up.

Overall, “Hillbilly Elegy” is an eye-opening movie that doesn’t shy away from hard themes of death, the impacts of drugs on people’s lives, and the unfair circumstances that many people grow up in. While this isn’t the movie for everyone, especially due to its controversial nature as a result of the portrayal of drugs, I still recommend it for anyone who wishes to experience something more realistic than the average film.