I read the book Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance in 2016, the year it was released. The book examined the Rust Belt area in Ohio and the Appalachian region in Kentucky through J.D. Vance’s family history.
Advertising for the book in 2016 said it would throw light on one of the reasons Hillary lost the 2016 Presidential election. J.D. Vance made sweeping generalizations about the poor white people in those areas who switched political parties and voted for the Republican candidate (whose name I cannot write). The author lamented about the region and the people, many of whom were poor and dependent on government subsidies. Also, the opioid crisis was in full swing; people were dying from readily available prescription meds. The book was more political, less personal. Someone who grew up there explaining this area made for a valuable read. However, it was not fulfilling and did not have all the answers. I remember being underwhelmed at the end of the book.
The movie Hillbilly Elegy in 2020 is a drama with no politics. Instead, it is a depressing soap opera showing domestic trauma extending back two generations through the eyes of J.D. Vance (JD). Hillbilly Elegy is set in 2011 when JD is in Yale law school. Flashbacks to 1997 in Kentucky and Ohio show the violence and drugs that haunt the family. The story moves along quickly because JD must get back to school for a meeting, which is kind of weird. Luckily, the movie ends on a small high note.
One reason to watch – there are big named stars in very unglamorous roles. Glenn Close is Manaw, the matriarch of the family. With a lot of makeup, Manaw has one gear – mean – although she has a sweet spot for JD. She spends a lot of time chain-smoking and being gruff. The Academy has nominated Glenn Close for seven Academy Awards. She never won. This year, even playing a mean, brusque character, she may have a chance.
Amy Adams, with seemingly no makeup, is JD’s Mom, Bev. Bev is a bit more complicated than Manaw showing a wider range of emotions. Her character goes from nice and sweet to strung-out and violent. The Academy nominated Amy Adams for six Academy Awards; this could be her year to win. Although, I’m betting on the older Glenn Close to win.
Haley Bennet (Swallow, The Devil All the Time), as JD’s sister, Lindsay is probably the most stable and almost happy in this film, but stays mostly in the background.
Surprisingly, Owen Asztalos (Paterson), the 1997 JD in what is probably his most challenging role, did a fine job being the tortured young teen.
Overall, Hillbilly Elegy, a 2020 drama, is a slow-building drama with a slightly happy ending. I never got emotionally attached to any of the characters, probably because there is so much yelling and unrest. I just wanted it to end, but, like the book, it is valuable to experience.