American Melancholy

Hillbilly Elegy

Director: Ron Howard

Cast: Amy Adams, Glenn Close, Gabriel Basso, Haley Bennett, Freida Pinto, Owen Asztalos

This film is only available on Netflix

Frost/ Nixon and Rush director Ron Howard brings to life J. D. Vance’s autobiographical tale Hillbilly Elegy to the screen featuring superb performances by Oscar nominees Amy Adams (The Fighter, American Hustle, Vice) and the wonderfully talented Glenn Close (The Wife, Dangerous Liaisons, Albert Nobbs) as mother and daughter. Amy Adams plays the troubled mother Bev, a nurse in Ohio who has a heroin addiction and is trying to keep her young family together, namely her daughter Lindsay played by Haley Bennett (Rules Don’t Apply, The Girl on the Train) and J. D. played by the talented Gabriel Basso (Super 8, The Whole Truth).

Glenn Close plays Bev’s mother and grandmother to her two children, the matriarchal Mamaw who ultimately steps in to raise the young J.D. when he is a boy, the younger version brilliantly played by Owen Asztalos who holds his own in some heart wrenching scenes between Amy Adams and Glenn Close.

The adult J. D. has completed law school at Yale in Connecticut and is about to be interviewed for his first legal appointment as a junior attorney at law. Before he gets to that interview in the prestigious and affluent environment of Yale in Connecticut he has to head back to Middleton in Ohio to deal with his mother Bev, expertly played by Amy Adams who has had a relapse on heroin.

J. D. doesn’t come from a wealthy family but through his grandmother’s encouragement, he studied hard, worked to pay the bills and got into law school. He was determined to escape the trap of cyclic poverty that his mother and grandmother had been trapped in.

His beautiful girlfriend Usha is back home in Connecticut awaiting for his return and is played by Slumdog Millionaire star Freida Pinto. J. D. has kept the divide between affluent Connecticut and his Hillbilly past very distinctive by not sharing his violent upbringing in Jackson, Kentucky or Middleton, Ohio with Usha.

Hillbilly Elegy is told through a series of childhood flashbacks to a younger J. D. as he had to deal with his mother’s erratic behaviour, which provides some brilliant scenes between Owen Asztalos and experienced Hollywood actresses Glenn Close and Amy Adams.

What makes Glenn Close’s performance as the chain smoking Hillbilly matriarch so brilliant is that she is playing it against type, a struggling grandmother who gets meals on wheels and barely has enough cash to feed her grandson.

Close’s performance is astounding, a far cry from her lavish and equally superb performances in The Wife, as Sunny von Bulow in Reversal of Fortune and her breakout performance as the scheming Marquise de Merteuil in the Oscar winning French drama Dangerous Liaisons. Glenn Close has never won an Oscar and she deserves to win for this supporting performance in Hillbilly Elegy.

Hillbilly Elegy is a melancholic look back at one man’s struggle to lift himself out of poverty and the immense impression his mother and grandmother made on his life and how he overcome his dire circumstances to rise up and join the professional classes while never dismissing his impoverished heritage.

Hillbilly Elegy gets a film rating of 7.5 out of 10 and is recommended viewing for those that love a good family drama.

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