Glenn Close co-stars with Amy Adams in a tidied-up 'Hillbilly Elegy '.

Early in Hillbilly Elegy,'' Ron Howard's adaption of J.D. Vance's best selling memoir, J.D. [Gabriel Basso] a Yale law student attends a fancy dinner with representative from top firms who are scouting young legal talent.

Bewildered at the silverware arrayed around his plate - so many forks! - he calls his girlfriend, Usha [Freido Pinto], a fellow Yalie, who gives him a quick tutorial in the theory and practice of formal table-setting.

The narrative zigzags through time and space, starting out in Kentucky, where J.D. spends summer as a boy [played by Owen Asztalos] among his extended family. The older J.D. is called back home to Middletown, Ohio, when his mother, Bev [Amy Adams], overdoses on Heroin.

Her addiction and general instability while J.D. is growing up, balanced by the benevolent influence of Bev's mother, Bonnie, universally known as Mamaw [Glen Close], provide a dramatic structure, or at least an explanation for the regular explosions of drama.

Partnered with Madea in a Tyler Perry movie, would be a pop culture force to be reckoned with. Like Madea, she is an exuberantly profane, slyly self-aware character, but the movie traps Mamaw, and Close, in a sticky web of piety and sincerity.

Her individuality is circumscribed by the need to treat her as a symbol - a figure at once cautionary and inspiring, an example of a sociological rule and also the prime exception to it.

His aim wasn't only to recount his mother's struggles with addiction and celebrate his grandmother's grit. ''Hillbilly Elegy,'' published in 2016, attracted an extra measure of attention [and controversy] after Donald Trump's election.

It seemed to offer a firsthand report, both personal and analytical on the condition of the white American working class.

And while the book really didn't explain the election - Vance is reticent about his family's voting habits and ideological tendencies - it did venture a hypothesis about how that family and others like it encountered such persistent household dysfunction and economic distress. His answer wasn't political or economic, but cultural.

He suggests that the same trait that make his people distinctive - suspicion of outsiders, resistant to authority, devotion to kin, eagerness to fight - make it hard for them to thrive in modern American society.

Essentially, ''Hillbilly Elegy'' updates the old ''culture of poverty'' thesis associated with anthropologist Oscar Lewis's research on Mexican peasants [and later  Daniel Patrick Moynihan's ideas about Black Americans] and applies it to disadvantaged white communities.

The strange stew of melodrama, didacticism and inadvertent camp that Howard serves up isn't the result of failure of taste or sensitivity. If anything, ''Hillbilly Elegy'' is too tasteful, too sensitive for its own good, studiously unwilling to be as wild or provocative as its characters.

Such tact is in keeping with the moral of its story, which is that success in America means growing up to be less interesting than your parents or grandparents.

The best thing I can say about this movie is also the most damning, given Mamaw's proud indifference to anyone's good opinion of her. It's respectable.

The World Students Society thanks review author A.O.Scott.


Post a Comment

Grace A Comment!