Movie Review: Hillbilly Elegy (2020)

Now streaming on Netflix.

Ron Howard’s literary adaptation of Hillbilly Elegy (C) is death by a thousand paper cuts, a rebel yell of a tale when it should be a reflective requiem. Gabriel Basso is likable as the man from Appalachia, now a Yale law student, pulled back into the melodrama of his roots, dominated by a hard knocks grandma (Glenn Close) and drug addicted mom (Amy Adams). The film never finds its focus, teetering between flashbacks and montages of flashbacks in a package that generally feels a bit condescending to its Rust Belt subjects. Much of the movie is shrill and involves lots of arguments, a veritable poor man’s Prince of Tides without the gorgeous coast and French manicures. There are moments of grandeur, largely in Close’s performance, a bit of a white Madea in pancaked prosthetics whose skilled acting chops still come raging through. Adams isn’t well served by the material despite her commitment to a hot mess of a role. The criminally underused Freida Pinto is a delight in a bit part as the protagonist’s girlfriend. Howard largely misses the mark in attempts at humanizing his subjects or drawing viewers in to a particular narrative path. Twice removed from the memoir origins, Howard’s Hollywood-splaining of rural life rarely finds its footing.

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