Based on J.D. Vance's bestselling memoir of the same name, director Ron Howard's Hillbilly Elegy clearly has Oscar aspirations, but falls short of reaching them.
Vance (Gabriel Basso as an adult, Owen Asztalos as a child) is in Yale Law School interviewing with prestigious Washington, D.C., firms when his sister (Haley Bennett) calls to tell him that their mother (Amy Adams) is in a hospital after overdosing on heroin. Vance travels back to Southern Ohio to be with her, and the film regularly jumps back and forth in time between the present day and Vance's childhood in Kentucky and Ohio.
The movie's best performance is from Glenn Close as Vance's no-nonsense grandmother. Vance's relationship with his girlfriend (Freida Pinto) is also handled well. But while Ron Howard is a good director, ugliness has never been his strong suit. As a result, the scenes depicting drug abuse, child abuse, and even uglier violence feel more slick than gritty. To its detriment, the film feels safe, even when it's depicting horrors.
Hillbilly Elegy is playing at the Broad and will premiere on Netflix on November 24.