Ah. The most wonderful time of the year approaches. Awards Season.
I spend all year ITCHING for the complex and challenging stories and performances that film festivals and fellow critics rave about to become released.
Netflix’s most recent Appalachian family melodrama, Hillbilly Elegy directed by Ron Howard, is not that movie.
Hillbilly Elegy is the definition of Oscar bait. It has all the elements — adapted from a New York Times best selling memoir, an Academy Award winning director, and is helmed by two fantastic actresses, who are literally willing to put it ALL on the line for the sake of art.
Amy Adams and Glenn Close take deep, desperate dives into their performances at the hopes of FINALLY scoring Academy Award gold. (Adams has been nominated for 6 Academy Awards. Close has been nominated for 7. Neither have won.)
And let’s face it, the film would have destined for Lifetime without these two women.
I found Close’s performance as the self-aware matriarch, Mamaw, to be more ferocious and dynamic than Adam’s — mainly because Adams’s performance as addict, Bev, felt like a collection of wild, inconsistent outbursts than a fully fleshed out character.
However, both make commendable efforts to bring this eyeroll inducing script to life. I foresee Close getting a little more attention going into Awards season, although I’d personally hate for THIS to be the role Close gets the Oscar for (especially with Sunset Boulevard coming down the pipeline).
But overall, the film is a disjointed composition with thematic views on the white working class, abuse, addiction and the culture of poverty feel more like shallow stereotypes than anything authentic or statement worthy. Even when the novel was released, Hillbilly Elegy received criticism and controversy for not accurately capturing the American heartlands.
And to be honest, it doesn’t feel like the protagonist has anything notable to say besides, “look at me! I went to Yale. I escaped my hometown and my family.” And in a world of showing off and being fake, we don’t need more of that energy.
Don’t get me wrong. Hillbilly Elegy isn’t the worst film I’ve ever seen, but it also isn’t the best. It isn’t anything more than a glossy yet exhausting soap-opera starring two hard working and dedicated actresses that deserve better.
Final Thoughts: Hillbilly Elegy shys away from making any bold statements, resulting in a moreforgettable soap-opera like cry for an award.