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Hillbilly Elegy Review: Actors Are Super

The book titled ‘Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis’, in which James David Vance tells his autobiography, was published in 2016 and remained on The New York Times bestseller list for a long time. The book was considered by the media as a sociological document reflecting the white working class that brought Trump to power. J.D. Vance’s determinations in the book on the culture, values of the Kentucky region or Middletown, Ohio also caused controversy. Some people who grow and live in the same areas, J.D. He criticized Vance’s approach as exaggerated; They especially argued that he did not know the Kentucky mountainous region well enough.


Netflix’s ‘Hillbilly Elegy’, adapted by Vanessa Taylor and directed by Ron Howard, tells a growth story independent of all these discussions. It is hard to say that the observations on the white working class that brought Trump to power are prominent. The psychological approach that focuses on the mother-son relationship rather than political and sociological analyzes on today’s USA prevails. Undoubtedly, anyone can read politically as they wish, but “Hillbilly Elegy”, unlike the book, seemed to me like a movie that takes care to avoid political debates.

Hillbilly Elegy, A Movie About the American Dream

Undoubtedly, there are some scenes that make the characters feel their political identity, especially through Granny Mamaw played by Glenn Close. For example, Mamaw says that Native Americans cannot be wise people just because they don’t have microwave ovens; He makes racist jokes about the Poles. The Monica Lewinsky scandal, which broke out during the Bill Clinton era, is also featured as a television report. In another scene we see J.D. react very harshly to the contemptuous statements made by someone from the east coast about the people of Kentucky. But these are just a few details that stand out… The main issue of the movie is the struggle for existence of J.D. to realize the American Dream… It is a struggle that extends from childhood to youth…


In the opening scene, the Christian preacher whose voice comes from the radio, the call to “never lose faith in the American Dream” sets the general framework of the film. In the “flash-back” scene we watched during the credits, we see that Middletown, where 13-year-old Mamaw fled Kentucky with her boyfriend, is a vibrant, hopeful industrial city that gives life to the working class. The economic crisis images of the same city in 1997 show bleak poverty. At that point, it makes sense for the preacher to want to renew faith in the American Dream. It is up to us to establish the link between that belief and Trump’s rise to power.

The film opens in 1997 during J.D.’s (Owen Asztalos) childhood days, during the big family reunion that took place in the mountainous Jackson countryside of Kentucky. Later, between childhood and college student in 2011, it flows through two separate channels. To continue his education at Yale Law School, J.D. (Gabriel Basso) needs to find an internship job where he can earn money in the summer. On critical days when he is going to attend dinners for internships and make job interviews, his older sister Lindsay (Haley Bennett) calls and her mother says that Bev (Amy Adams) was hospitalized for heroin use. J.D. returns to Middletown in Ohio at the expense of his future. She remembers what she lived in her childhood while doing everything she could in a material and spiritual sense to put her mother in a nursing home, accompanied by scenes of return to the past… In these scenes, we see that life with her mother Bev was never easy for her during her childhood years.


Bev is a substance addict, who focuses more on his own problems, sees Lindsay and J.D. as a burden, who does not hesitate to show violence to his children, lacks work discipline … Years later, J.D. again appears as an obstacle and problem. He constantly asked J.D. for child love, but on the other hand, he could not show proper maternal love to him; We see that he did not support him properly in any period of his education life. Ron Howard used Bev’s hand outstretched to love and support J.D. in moments of crisis as a metaphor for the bond between mother and son. Bev cannot gain his freedom without cutting this bond away; because this bond is an obstacle to J.D.

The point that bothered me is that Bev is portrayed as a mother who constantly causes problems for her son, rather than being a ‘patient who needs psychological help and cannot be held responsible for her behavior’ throughout the film … It is emphasized that there is no father or male figure. It is important to note that in the opening fight scene, J.D. was saved by the men of the family. Her older sister, Lindsay, redeems herself with the love and presence of Kevin, who is her boyfriend and then her husband. Drifting towards drugs and crime in front of his mother’s eyes, J.D. is brought to the rescue of his “unique grandmother, Mamaw”. J.D. has a better grasp of what poverty is when living with Mamaw. Mamaw, a bad-mouthed, tough but reliable woman, sets a more accurate example for J.D. J.D. with him he learns to struggle with poverty and life without whining. In the opening scene of the movie, the phrase “he can recover” he said about the injured turtle actually applies to himself.

“Hillbilly Elegy” Is A Movie Where The Crisis Never Ends And The Tension Never Decreases


It is evident from the first moments that director Ron Howard aimed for a movie that does not give the audience peace and does not breathe easily. He becomes a victim of meaningless and unnecessary violence that only aims to show power… Despite this attack, which is a reflection of male violence in the region, it is confusing that J.D. says that he loves the Kentucky highland and always wants to stay there longer. We think of “commitment to geography, roots and family despite everything”. Throughout the film, many similar questions arise in our minds, whose answers are left to us …

For example, J.D. In one scene he says he loves his mother, but apart from a few moments in childhood, the movie doesn’t really make us feel this love. The same is true for Bev’s love for his children … His mother appears as an obstacle to JD’s education life and an antagonist that must be overcome … In one scene of the movie, his older sister tells JD that his mother has suffered a lot, and call it ‘flash-‘ back ‘trauma scenes come in, but this is a very short scene… Honestly, I don’t think the movie has a problem with understanding the Bev character deeply. It’s all about J.D.’s desire to achieve his goals by overcoming obstacles …

It is not possible to say that it is exaggerated as it brings back the real events, but it is a film that plays on our emotions with its ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ narrative and style… Ron Howard with his moving camera, makes us constantly at J.D. He always keeps the psychology of crisis alive by identifying with him. Popular in the US because of the book, J.D. It may be a relatively easy course for American audiences who know the story of Vance, but for those who do not know it, the movie proceeds as a heavy and sad drama.

Towards the final J.D. “The place we come from determines who we are, but we choose who we are every day,” he says. This is an approach that underlines the struggle to reach the American Dream to the end… But unlike the book, it is difficult to say that the film describes J.D.’s ‘where it came from’ culturally and classically well enough. The producers, who describes himself as ‘social conservative’ in order to bring the film to a wider audience via Netflix He may have wanted to “bypass” Vance’s political views. But it is hard to say that this brings a lot to the film… On the contrary, it creates a feeling that something is missing…


‘My favorite part of Hillbilly Elegy is acting… Amy Adams seems to be one of the strongest nominees for the Oscar for best actress with the role of Bev. Glenn Close in Grandma Mamaw is also a candidate to be one of the ambitious names in the supporting actress category. They both play perfectly, but because of the dramatic change in body language, Close’s performance was more impressive… We feel that Adams and Close captured the characters very well in the episode where we watched video footage of real people in the final. Owen Asztalos plays J.D.’s childhood and Gabriel Basso plays his youth. Both of them do their part too much. When we include Haley Bennett in Lindsay and Freida Pinto in Usha, the lover of J.D., acting seems to be the most solid and impressive aspect of the movie.

I cannot say that I love ‘Hillbilly Elegy, which was released in a limited number of theaters in the USA on November 11 and has been included in Netflix content since November 24, but it is definitely worth attention as a new movie with an Oscar chance in the acting category.

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