A Yale law student drawn back to his hometown grapples with family history, Appalachian values and the American dream.
‘We cannot change the cards we are dealt. Just how we play the hand.’
An introduction to JD (Gabriel Basso) kicks off the film, and we weave in and out of the present and past times of his life. We are now presented to 14 years later, where he is currently working at a restaurant and gets a call that his mom OD on heroin. As we dig deeper into the OD, we get introduced to Lindsay (Haley Bennett), JD’s sister, and she is practically begging him to come home to help with their mother.
In a flashback scene, we witness Bev and young JD having a touching moment in a card shop as they leave the shop and are on a road trip together, he tells her a story of one of his friends saying something about Bev, and she LOSES IT.
We already know that Adams is one of the best working actresses in Hollywood and this scene was a great representation of that. It was emotional, powerful, and just a ruthless, aggressive moment that showcases her acting ability.
Family is hard, but life doesn’t get much easier when you toss in addiction, kids, and abuse. Addiction is something that is tackled a lot in movies, but often they get it wrong. The writing shows you how addiction and abuse can single-handily change the course of generations of people and how the odds are stacked against you from go.
The foundation of who Bev is was introduced to us as this bad mother, but we subtly see how her upbringing didn’t help her, and it enabled the years of abuse, the years of addiction, and becoming a mother at the age of 18 didn’t help JD or Lindsay. They suffered because of this, and they are forced to make decisions, and the writing in this movie asks the hard questions and puts you in the shoes to answer them.
How many times do you help someone?
How many times do you give them money?
How many times can you try to the right path of a loved one?
These are questions we are asked throughout this film and ones that are posed in an elegant but heartfelt way that is relatable. The emotional impact layered within this film is raw and showcases a battle of a son trying to make the right decisions for his life, his mother, and the family. You root for the idea of JD bucking the trend and overcome who he SHOULD be vs. who he DESERVES to be.
Although I loved the writing of JD’s character, Gabriel Basso was downright unlikeable and not in the way that you want it to come off inside the film. He was vanilla, bland, and downright almost makes you not want to invest in his arc. You have a movie with heavy-hitters, and Basso was just out of place.
As most of you know, Glenn Close has gotten a lot of talk for her role in this film, and for the first half of the movie, you don’t understand why, as she is only in bits and pieces of it. But when the transition into her time, she does what she does and steals the show. As we see, Mamaw slowly starts to realize the mistakes she had made with Bev. She wanted to right the wrongs with JD, and the aggressive nature led to some fantastic one on one battles with Amy Adams on the screen.
Beyond the acting, there were some issues with the movie. Ron Howard has his highs and his lows within his direction, but we see him struggle throughout the first part of this film. While you understand its build, the first act was bloated, and it took a little time to get to where it was going. It bogged down the overall runtime as well, and when we get to that final act, it’s like FINALLY.
Last, I was aware this was a true story, but I did not know much about the story before viewing, but I wasn’t too shocked to have a happy ending. The final act of this movie stands out for me as it could be inspirational to hear and to see and watch someone overcome these obstacles and this hardship to become successful in life. We don’t have to be the victim of our past. We can overcome it, but it will take hard work and dedication.
For me, it has been tough to decide who I thought was the MVP of this film. Haley Bennett was terrific in her short time throughout the film, and if she was given more screen time, she could have stolen the show. Glenn Close was fantastic during the second half of the film. BUT for me, this was the Amy Adams show, and she is just head and shoulders above the pact in Hollywood as one of the best actresses, and her consistency and rarely missing is mind-blowing.
Once again, Amy Adams proves she is one of the best actresses in Hollywood with her profound performance as Hillbilly Elegy delights.