Written by J D Vance, Hillbilly Elegy, set in late 1990s, is a memoir about life of his family and his people in the greater Appalachia. Vance grew up in Ohio and Kentucky amidst poverty and its accompanying scourges, social isolation, lack of medical resources, drug use and religious and political changes.
When young Vance (Owen Asztalos) began getting into trouble, living with his single mother, his grandmother mammaw (Glenn Close) saw only one option; to take him in. Standing on the doorstep of rebellion, teen Vance yelled at her rules and her discipline, “Who are you? You’re not my mother” and mammaw shot back, “I’m all you got”. Vance grew to appreciate his mammaw’s sacrifices, stayed focused and ended up at Yale law and got hitched to a pretty girl of immigrant origin, Usha (Freida Pinto). Vance is asked to go home on the eve of his interview, right after graduation by his sister (Haley Bennet) on account of family emergency. His mother Bev’s (Amy Adams) reentry into the world of addiction, forced older Vance (Gabriel Basso) to confront the demons that plagued his family, with a fresh perspective.
Hillbilly Elegy has garnered some bad reviews. It is challenging to tell a personal story where viewers want universal themes and generalized moral conclusions pertaining to the ongoing politics of the time. In my opinion, it is a beautifully sensitive story, artfully told with present happenings unraveling amid flashbacks of the past. There are also sensitive and insightful themes that emerge. Older and wiser Vance manages to hold both truths together in his heart, his present life and his family of origin, with love. He concludes, “my family is not perfect, but they got me where I am” and going forward “it will be a shared legacy”.
J D Vance has contributed to the National Review and is now a principal at a Silicon Valley investment firm. Kudos to director, Ron Howard. This is a beautiful film that focuses on family in a year when the entire world stopped and people took a breather and found the opportunity to embrace (physically or mentally) what and who they loved. On a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being excellent, I rate the film 4.4. It is not earth shattering but it will make you appreciate the people you love.