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Bestselling Book Makes for an 'Almost Laughably Bad' Movie

Critics pan Ron Howard's 'Hillbilly Elegy' as out of touch
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 13, 2020 11:17 AM CST

(Newser) Hillbilly Elegy, the bestselling memoir from JD Vance about the struggles of poor white communities, was heralded as a must-read for understanding the political divide in America upon its release in 2016. Hillbilly Elegy, the new movie adaptation from Netflix, written by The Shape of Water's Vanessa Taylor and directed by Ron Howard, is "a different animal, and a startlingly terrible one," writes Alissa Wilkinson at Vox. Four killer takedowns:

  • It's "possibly the worst movie I've seen in years," writes Wilkinson. "It is distractingly Hollywoodified, a rich person's idea of what it is like to be a poor person." Performances by Glenn Close and Amy Adams "feel bizarrely theatrical." "'Aren't these people crazy?!' it seems to be saying, 'How exotic! And yet, they're humans just like you and me!'" Wilkinson writes. "It strips out Vance's sociopolitical commentary entirely."
  • To say that it's a rich person's version of what poor people experience "may be giving it too much credit—even a rich person would note how other factors like race and politics keep these cycles going generation after generation," writes David Fear at Rolling Stone. "It's merely poverty-class cosplay, a pantomime of what people derisively call 'white trash' triumph and tragedy being sold as prestige drama."

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  • It's "almost laughably bad," according to Michael O'Sullivan at the Washington Post, who gives the film 1.5 stars out of four. He notes the film seems to suggest that Vance, a Yale Law School graduate, was successful because he was a persistent, self-sufficient anomaly. "Yet those same values don't seem to have saved many in his family—or, frankly, the larger Rust Belt community."
  • Clarisse Loughrey also takes issue with the film's notion that what separates Vance's fate from that of his mother's, a heroin addict, "is purely down to personal choice." It exposes "a filmmaker who thinks that a positive outlook alone can fix the world," Loughrey writes at the Independent. And "in the hands of serial sentimentalist Ron Howard, Hillbilly Elegy feels sickeningly irresponsible."
The film is screening in select theatres now. It will be released on Netflix on Nov. 24. (Read more movie review stories.)

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