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Hillbilly Elegy review: 'Glenn Close and Amy Adams, with 13 Oscar nominations between them, appear to be overacting in a bid for awards'




Charlie Hughes, the Indie's film reviewer, is a 17-year-old Year 12 student at Bishop's Stortford College...

Signalled as an early Oscar front runner, Academy Award winner Ron Howard’s Hillbilly Elegy lands on Netflix with high expectations. Yet this hype belies a disappointingly bland family saga that can’t shake off an air of artificiality.

Screenwriter Vanessa Taylor (who co-wrote the Best Picture-winning The Shape of Water) adapts JD Vance’s best-selling memoir about his experiences of growing up in a blue-collar Appalachian town.

Haley Bennett as Lindsay, Glenn Close as Mamaw and Owen Asztalos as JD Vance in Hillbilly Elegy. Picture: PA Photo/Netflix/Lacey Terrell.
Haley Bennett as Lindsay, Glenn Close as Mamaw and Owen Asztalos as JD Vance in Hillbilly Elegy. Picture: PA Photo/Netflix/Lacey Terrell.

Straying from the narrative structure of the book, Taylor’s dual storylines parallel JD’s life as a child and adult. The young JD (Owen Asztalos) is a shy but strong-willed teenager looked after by his cantankerous grandmother (Glenn Close); the older JD (Gabriel Basso) is a Yale student returning home to care for his drug-addled mother (Amy Adams).

The end-credit photos reveal remarkable similarities between the actors and their real-life counterparts, attesting to impressive make-up and prosthetics. Unfortunately, the performances never ring true: Adams and Close (who have 13 Oscar nominations between them but no wins) appear to be overacting in a bid for awards. Close, in particular, flounders in a caricatured role that offers little of the dramatic intelligence or subtlety she displayed in 2018’s The Wife.

This artificiality is not limited to the acting. Howard, a typically reliable director, resorts to clichés to contrive sorely needed dramatic tension. His swirling camera movements and slow-motion scenes feel melodramatic, manufacturing emotion at the expense of authenticity.

This is not to say that Hillbilly Elegy is a bad watch: it has moments of laugh-out-loud comedy and an evocative soundtrack from Hans Zimmer and David Fleming. Unfortunately, this elegy is simply unable to find its soul. I imagine Howard and his cast will be disappointed come Oscar time.

Star rating (out of 5): **



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