Hillbilly elegy is misunderstood on almost every possible level.
At the most superficial and superficial level Hillbilly elegy is the most cynical form of Oscar lure. It’s a means for actors Amy Adams and Glenn Close to take a run in the awards season and turn the inside dial of their performances to eleven to play absurd caricatures of complex and nuanced people. There are moments when, completely separated from its form or substance, Hillbilly elegy delves into the realm of self-parody as Adams makes every dramatic bone in her body scream “bad Dog!” with as much conviction as possible, as if everyone moment could be an Oscar clip.
It’s not that Close and Adams are bad actors. Indeed, there is a credible argument that – at some level – Hillbilly elegy could be “its worth it” when Adams finally allows it to take home what will effectively be a career prize. However, everything in Hillbilly elegy is an amazingly badly judged combination of heightened melodrama and serious sincerity. Ron Howard directs the film with a solemn depth that suggests he is pulling back the layers of the American heartland as if looking at the film through the lens of Terrence Malick via the Russo Brothers.
There is something more insidious and uncomfortable beneath the surface, however Hillbilly elegy. The film is based on the autobiography of JD Vance, a book that became a sensation in 2016. The book’s arrival coincided with the election of Donald Trump, thus becoming a cornerstone of a subgenre of literature devoted to understanding Trump voters – the kind of soul-searching that led to the scratchy profiles of white nationalists The New York Times. (While Vance characterizes himself as “A nationalist”, the film openly avoids its politics.)
This context may explain the certainty and meaning of Hillbilly elegy, which presents itself at every turn as a window into another culture – the idea of “Forgotten” America or the “left behind” America. Unfortunately, it also explains the most terrifying aspect of the movie, the way, how Hillbilly elegy treats his characters as exhibits in a grotesque zoo. While adapted from a book written by a character rooted in this community, Hillbilly elegy often feels like an anthropological study made from second- or third-hand reports.
The film’s most egregious flaw, however, could be how deeply it is misunderstood Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
Lots of problems with Hillbilly elegy exist in the gap between what the film is and what the production team wants. On the surface, Hillbilly elegy presents itself as a window into a certain kind of American life, as a portrait of a community that is often misrepresented and misunderstood. The film tries to mythologize this community, with Vance telling folk wisdom like “You never start a fight – but if someone starts a fight with you, you’d better end it.” Talk about how life was governed by a code and “That code was everything.”
Of course, it doesn’t help that – on a simple level – Hillbilly elegy It’s just not good It’s cliché-driven, with Vance never missing the opportunity to beautify his life with hackneyed attempts at poetry. At the beginning of the film, he solemnly assures the viewer that the family’s exodus from their roots had a profound impact on them. “We were all somehow different in Middletown. Something was missing. Maybe hope. “ Even in a better movie, that would be a terrible line. in the Hillbilly elegyit sets the tone.
There have been many films exploring the rural America experience, by communities that have often been overlooked and ignored by the political and social establishment, including films like Winter bones, Little Woods and Mickey and the Bear. It is very clear that Hillbilly elegy wants to position itself in this space, just with a mainstream director and a number of bigger stars with the potential for awards.
Hillbilly elegy occasionally brushes against insight into this community. The film points to systemic problems that explain things like poverty, substance abuse and social disadvantage that are statistically common in this community. It is believed that J.D.’s mother, Beverly, took her first step on the road to drug addiction through prescription pain medication at the hospital where she worked. The women in the Vance family derailed their lives with a teenage pregnancy, while Beverly berates her daughter. “You think you’re special? That’s exactly what happens to girls.”
However, Hillbilly elegy is actually not interested in the existing systemic problems or the social barriers that exist between these communities and a higher standard of living. Instead, it follows the path of least resistance. At the beginning of the film, J.D. Played in clichés during an unusual recruiting dinner and presented as a fish out of the water. “You had two different types of white wine?” He’s freaking out with his girlfriend on the phone. “It’s like a test.” He continues “Why are there so many forks?” It’s all very superficial, very routine.
This wouldn’t be such a big problem if Hillbilly elegy didn’t seem so complacent and kept patting himself on the back for a glimpse of the class in America today. There is no depth or nuance here, no penetrating insights. This is because it becomes very clear very early on Hillbilly elegy is not the story director Ron Howard and screenwriter Vanessa Taylor think (or even want) to be it. This is not a portrait of a particular way of life. It is a long and expansive homage to an extraordinary person who could triumph over circumstances by sheer willpower.
Hillbilly elegy is essentially a gigantic love letter to JD Vance that wouldn’t pose such a serious problem if it wasn’t written by JD Vance, presented as a serious glimpse into another side of America, and not so cynical and inconsiderate in its positioning of others Characters, mostly in terms of their worth to the myth that Vance creates around himself. Hillbilly elegy Occasionally he nods to the systemic factors involved in J.D.’s explanation of poverty and poverty. surrounds it, but only in the context of the fact that it is something that he overcomes.
Indeed, the holiness of J.D. noted rather ruthlessly in the opening scenes in which the boy rescues a turtle while the children around him try to pull it out of its broken shell. “You can heal” Vance assures the teenagers. “What ever,” they answer. It is immediately found that J.D. has a moral fiber that just doesn’t exist in the people around him. After all, it’s not intelligence or academic ability that J.D. get out of this community. Hillbilly elegy insists. The film also seems to deny that luck could have played a role. Instead, J.D. easy better.
This is most evident in the illustration of J.D. to his mother Beverly in the movie. Bev is a drug addict. She is unreliable. She is suicidal. She will be J.D. consistently portrayed as a burden, with the precipitating incident of the conspiracy being a heroin overdose that J.D. pulls out of this awkward dinner and returns home. Alone Hillbilly elegy seems to agree on one crucial point: it’s all Bev’s fault. “You always have a reason” Bev’s mother complains. “It’s always someone else’s fault. At some point you have to take responsibility or someone else has to step in.”
Hillbilly elegy Never really articulates the feeling, but it seems repeatedly to imply that Bev’s addiction is a simple failure of will on their own and a failure of those around her to give her the hard love she needs. As Bev J.D. asks to provide her with a urine sample, he scolds here, “You should have thought about it before you got up.” He challenges his grandmother “How is it getting better?” He insists, “If you had put your foot down years ago it wouldn’t have happened.”
Hillbilly elegy becomes an ode to personal responsibility, arguing that J.D. she and Bev didn’t, and so J.D. managed to escape the community around him while Bev couldn’t. While the film subtly suggests this perhaps Bev’s addiction was rooted in the malpractice of the doctors at the hospital where she worked. The film expressly matches her experiences with addictive opioids and the brief flirtation with J.D. with marijuana. (J.D. classifies it as “A gateway drug”and the following scenes support this.) When J.D. Could quit marijuana, then why couldn’t Bev quit heroin?
Naturally, Hillbilly elegy offers a more sentimental portrait of J.D.’s grandmother Mamaw, who offers hard love and monologues based on a fatal misunderstanding of the film Terminator 2. Mamaw helps J.D. straight and tight, and offers factual advice such as: “Now stop stealing things, do your homework and get rid of your losing friends.” If only more children had surrogate parents like Mamaw Hillbilly elegy suggests America is a much more resilient place.
However, Hillbilly elegy be careful not to give Mamaw too much credit – as this is the mythology of J.D. as a truly extraordinary individual who succeeded on their own. After all, according to the film, America also needs more children who enjoy watching Al Gore Meet the press. The film is full of ironic and bitter dramatic irony. “You always got me” Mamaw assures him that in a scene just before J.D. Comes home and finds her collapsed in the kitchen. Hillbilly elegy is very clear on this point. Everyone is ultimately on their own.
Indeed, despite his tense optimism and cheesy invocation of healthy Americana, Hillbilly elegy reads more about justification than justification. The film seems largely to reassure viewers that J.D. Made the right decisions, that he was right to leave his family behind to take advantage of his opportunities. “Don’t make us your excuses, J.D.” advocates his sister Lindsay towards the end of the film. In his final monologue, J.D. this before “Where we come from is who we are, but we choose what we become every day.”while positioning his success as that of his family “Common Heritage.”
This is where the film becomes toxic. Hillbilly elegy is so keen to ensure the success of J.D. rationalize that it seems unable to suggest that J.D. could come from something other than his own commitment. The film occasionally reveals the importance of other characters to J.D. are, but only as a stepping stone. His girlfriend rushes to a law firm to tell them he’s late for his interview, but that scene doesn’t play out and J.D. never recognizes it retrospectively.
After all, if Hillbilly elegy accepts that JD succeeded because of something other than immense intelligence and strength of character – if the film admits how much of its journey was down to luck, timing, gender, and the support structures around him – the house of cards would collapse. Hillbilly elegy would have to face the reality of the world in which not J.D., but his sister Lindsay and his mother Bev live.
Here lies the misunderstanding of the film Terminator 2 enter the game. At one point Mamaw explains life through the metaphor of Terminator 2and explains that there are three types of killer robots from the future: “Good terminators, bad terminators, and neutral terminators.” According to Mamaw’s logic, all a person has to do is determine what kind of cybernetic assassin they want to be. Mamaw was a “Bad Terminator”until she decided to become one “Good terminator.” J.D. obviously decides a “Good terminator.”
This misses the reality that the character is in Terminator 2 had absolutely no choice to become one “Good terminator.” It was reprogrammed in the future by John Connor and sent into the past with a new mission guideline. The machine didn’t make a spontaneous decision to rewrite its own programming or to fight for humanity. It was shaped and shaped by external forces and guided by the characters around it. In addition, the Terminator fights and dies for more than just his own survival and advancement. Sarah and John Connor do not sacrifice themselves for the Terminator.
Hillbilly elegy seeks to wrap a sentimental feel-good narrative around a community plagued by systemic problems and real-world problems, and seeks to expand the autobiography of an exceptional case into a broader social commentary that is unflattering to either approach. Hillbilly elegy is an amazingly toneless work, and it seems almost appropriate that it should arrive towards the end of the Trump era as a bookend for similarly misguided explorations of this early-era community.
Hillbilly elegy is a disaster.