Saturday, December 12, 2020

Hillbilly Elegy

Movie Name:
Hillbilly Elegy
Year of Release: 2020
Director: Ron Howard
Starring: Amy Adams, Glenn Close, Owen Asztalos, Gabriel Basso, Haley Bennett, Freida Pinto, Bo Hopkins, Jesse C. Boyd, Stephen Kunken, Keong Sim
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 3
View Trailer

Synopsis and Review:
Director Ron Howard is back, following his underrated Star Wars endeavor, "Solo: A Star Wars Story". This time around he's tackling the adaptation of a memoir by J.D. Vance, with a script by Vanessa Taylor (who also co-wrote Guillermo Del Toro's "The Shape of Water"). The film follows the story of J.D. currently a young law student at Yale, aiming to start an internship at a reputable Law Firm. The film flashbacks to his growing up experiences with a turbulent family life which took place in Ohio. A lot of that distress came from his mom, always having issues with substance abuse, which had its impact on her personal relationships, and eventually on her ability to maintain a steady career and income. Her issues with drugs also had consequences in J.D.'s behavior in high school, prompting him to eventually move in with his grandmother, while his older sister got married early on, so she could move out and continue her life elsewhere. As J.D. is about to interview and take the next step in his academic and professional career, his sister calls, informing him that his mother suffered yet another overdose, and he needs to come back and provide some assistance. J.D. informs his caring girlfriend Usha of his challenges, and decides to go back and try to solve whatever he can, without compromising his future.
"Hillbilly Elegy" strangely enough made me think of Debra Granik's work, in particular her feature "Winter's Bone". "Winter's Bone" manages to depict the way a remote population with its idiosyncrasies lives, without relying on artifice, cliches or overacting for that matter. The biggest issue with "Hillbilly Elegy" isn't the fact that the film is poorly conceived or executed, since Ron Howard is in fact a polished craftsman and a director who has managed to create some riveting features. The issue here stems from the fact that everything has been dialed up excessively, without nuance, nor subtlety, nor moments of humor. Every moment captured plays out like a micro dramatic instance of some big importance, and the narrative woven together feels like a series of cliches or clips from a series of Lifetime films sewn together. This excess can at times work, when the tone the director instills is aiming for that, and everything is being played out loud, however in "Hillbilly Elegy" while everything is dialed up excessively, the film is selling itself as a dramatic rendition of a life worth witnessing. While trying to be inspirational, the film fails to humanize its central characters, in particular Amy Adams's Beverly and Glenn Close's Bonnie. Two wonderfully gifted performers, who transform themselves, but can't salvage a film that fails to give them some dimension. For all its impeccable production values and team, it's a film that can't find its tone and is ultimately a waste of talent.