Hillbilly Elegy

Hillbilly Elegy ★★½

Reminded me of Mogul Mowgli conceptually in the way it's about being at odds with your background. Resentment towards your roots is an incredibly complex thing, and it manifests in so many ways. Not feeling 'right' in your own life and trying to hide your anger about that opens you up to a nauseating way of living where you can neither embrace nor break free from the things you perceive to be holding you back. This muddled existential crisis is too complicated to be simplified down to self-hatred, and not easy enough to present as something you can overcome by doing some Eat Pray Love style soul-searching. The most difficult thing about this sort of story is that there's no politically correct means of expressing it, nor is there a way for people who feel at odds with their upbringing and community to find sudden rehabilitation. You can go anywhere but the environment that moulded your worldviews sticks with you, and that's pretty miserable but also makes you unique and provides certain strength and perspective.

Depending on who you are and what you feel, Hillbilly Ellegy could be 100 different things (a lot of them likely to be bad/offensive) but the bones of it are interesting.

But this film has so much to do and so many complicated facets that I don't feel it did its characters justice. It doesn't quite nail down the scope of the generational aspects. It also seemingly backs away from the full messiness of its source material. I can't speak to this having not read the book, just what I've picked up from people who have. That being said, I think it's unfair to judge a movie based on preconceptions — which this had a lot of.

I don't feel this adequately explored all the facets of its characters and story, and that's frustrating because it does almost get there. There's just something that doesn't click into place or bring a full authentic depth. Something this sensitive and personal could benefit from spending as much time as possible delving into everything. I honestly think this had the potential to be a sprawling and deeply affecting adaptation, but the presentation of the narrative is too succinct and feels narrow. I think a 6 episode mini-series was the way to go, there's just so much ground to cover. That being said, the editing does a good job with the different timelines and cutting them together in a way that emulates recollection rather than objective history, which is important with stuff like this.

As good as Adams is (as good as she can be given the movie at large) I feel the film would have benefitted from lesser known talent. Obviously this is a project looking for some accolades but I think talent so heavily associated with Hollywood does it no favours. I'm not saying you have to actually hire someone like the characters, it's the way I would've felt as the casting director.

The ending lacked a punch for me but I did appreciate this on some levels and I think people unfairly made their minds up far in advance. This isn't a political statement and is far too individual to this particular family's struggle to do anything other than simply weave in the political matters that so obviously cloud poor parts of America such as expensive health care. I understand huffing because of political talking points regarding trump's appeal etc., but to dismiss this and its subject matter in entirety when it does try to empathise with incredibly difficult situations that are real for many people seems unfair to me and like a refusal to engage with art about the POV of working class-downright poor Americans.

Overall I found it to be a fine exploration of J.D. Vance's particular situation and at large what it's like to feel the burden of where you came from. Far from revelatory, but not terrible either. I think dismissing stories like this based on some preconceived notion of what working class people are/want/should be is unfair. Criticism of the actual material? Absolutely warranted, but a lot of it seems to come from a place of wanting to crack down on it and actively not wanting to understand or empathise.

Trudie liked this review