Hillbilly Elegy

Ron Howard’s latest feels like an anger management session.

The performances in Ron Howard’s new movie “Hillbilly Elegy” are excellent, but the movie has to be overdosed on the anger and yelling. This goes on for so long, that it’s actually difficult to watch it. Glenn Close, Gabriel Basso, and Owen Asztalos are the leading actors to ignite flames and provide the words and emotions of the characters. When they’re not angry, you’re relaxed by how they ease into their characters. But when they are, it can be excessive.

The story is based on the memoir by J.D. Vance and merges between 1997 and 2011. We meet young J.D. (Asztalos), and his Appalachian family, consisting of his older sister Lindsay (Haley Bennett), their druggie nurse mother Bev (Amy Adams), and their grandparents: Mamaw (Close) and Papaw (Bo Hoskins). As he’s raised in Middleton, Ohio, his life has its ups and downs, basically because of the parenting skills done by Bev and Mamaw.

For instance: when he tells Bev a kid insulted her and did nothing about it, she drives way past the speed limit, and chases him in a woman’s home, where she attacks him in front of the police. And yet, he gives her another chance by dropping the charges. The grandparents and sister are all proud of him for handling the situation well. Other times, Lindsay takes more crap from her than he does. And Mamaw basically lets her daughter Bev get away with certain things, and that’s why she became a heroin addict. But even they have their reasons for their directions.

In his adulthood, J.D. (Basso) attends Yale Law School, dates the lovely and smart Usha (Freida Pinto), and is on the verge of earning a career opportunity. He just needs to learn how to impress the big guys. Simultaneously, he receives the call from Lindsay that their mother overdosed on the heroin, and is about to be released from the hospital with no place to go. He has to figure out where he can find her a place, while making sure he can get back in time for the job interview.

Ron Howard has made excellent movies in the past, but “Hillbilly Elegy” is one of his weakest ones. It just seems too self-indulged in the conflicts and drama that it basically confuses us on whether or not we should support the characters. They do have sincere moments after they let out all their anger, and they convince you they’re good people, but the anger threatens to consume our support for them.

Close delivers some salty dialogue when she portrays the grumpy, but well-meaning grandma, while Adams is always upset, and I love and met that actress. But the real winning actors of the movie, to me at least, are Basso and Asztalos, who both portrays J.D. with consideration and flexibility. In a sense, they kind of reminded me of Ellar Coltrane in “Boyhood.” Yes, I know that was filmed for 12 years and that was the same actor portraying him, but their characters are able to see life in their perspectives.

“Hillbilly Elegy” will be on Netflix soon, and in this case, it’s one of those “see what you think” deals. If you saw it and liked it or disliked it, let’s talk about it. Usually, these kinds of movies based on books seems to win people over. I wanted to like this movie, because of that notion, but I felt like I was in an anger management session, where I wanted to let out a big outburst, telling people “Life sucks. Deal with it.”

Rating: 2 out of 4.

Now Playing in Select Theaters

Coming to Netflix November 24

Categories: Drama

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