Deborah Ross

Like a never-ending episode of The Jerry Springer Show: Hillbilly Elegy reviewed

This should be a stirring account of achieving the American dream but you might not get past the fact that Glenn Close is the spit of Catherine Tate’s Nan

Glenn Close, the spit of Catherine Tate’s Nan, as Mamaw in Ron Howard’s Hillbilly Elegy. Credit: Lacey Terrell

Hillbilly Elegy is an adaptation of the best-selling memoir, published in 2016, by J.D. Vance and it’s quite a story. He was brought up in the American rust belt amid poverty, violence, addiction, trash heaps, burning cars, hopelessness and, on top of all that, a grandma who, we now know, was the spit of Catherine Tate’s Nan. (It’s Glenn Close, but check it out.) Still, if you can get past Nan — if, if — this film should be an emotionally stirring and moving account of, ultimately, achieving the American dream. (Vance went on to Yale and became a successful investment banker.) But as directed by Ron Howard it isn’t any of that. Instead, this is like being trapped in a seemingly never-ending episode of The Jerry Springer Show.

Hillbilly Elegy is as badly constructed as it is badly directed, although the two may amount to the same thing. It’s told in flashbacks so it’s back and forth, back and forth, back, back, back, forth, forth, forth, with no fluidity whatsoever. (I am thinking of starting a campaign for the return of linear storytelling. I am not expecting Christopher Nolan to sign up.)

This is like being trapped in a seemingly never-ending episode of The Jerry Springer Show

At the outset we are forth, I suppose, with J.D. (a bland character blandly played by Gabriel Basso) at Yale, in a panic and phoning his girlfriend — a nothing role for Freida Pinto — because he’s at a smart dinner and doesn’t know what fork to use. I’m already wondering how bright he truly is given he could just wait to see which fork everyone else uses, but that’s by the by. He’s then summoned home by his sister, Lindsay (Haley Bennett), because their mom has taken a heroin overdose.

He returns to Ohio, where he grew up, although his family are originally ‘hillbillies’ from Kentucky.

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