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Rated 3.02 stars
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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
They Should Be Contenders
by Betty Jo Tucker

Hillbilly Elegy, directed by Oscar winner Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind), showcases the stunning acting of Glenn Close and Amy Adams. Howard worked from Vanessa Taylor’s screenplay adaptation of J.D. Vance’s memoir about growing up in a dysfunctional Appalachian family. Gabriel Basso portrays J.D. as an adult and Owen Aszalos plays the young J.D. With Close as the no-nonsense grandmother and Adams as the boy’s abusive mom, this Netflix offering cries out for 2020 Oscar nominations.

Along with those Close/Adams superb performances, a suspenseful question set-up early on in the movie helps keep our interest during a series of confusing flashbacks. The grown-up J.D. -- who has worked hard through college and now gets scheduled for an important interview – receives a call from his sister (Haley Bennett) about their mom’s OD on heroin. Sis wants him to come home and help her. How will he handle both situations that are happening at the same time? Fortunately, his understanding girlfriend (Frieda Pinto) gives him gentle support. Their phone conversations come across as lovely interludes during a hectic time for him.

J.D. can’t help remembering incidents in his past life as he struggles to decide what to do. That’s where those many flashbacks come into play. The problem?  They jump back and forward to different time periods. So the story suffers from lack of continuity. Still, Mamaw (Close) and Bev (Adams) always show up. And that is what makes this movie so compelling.   

A young boy’s grandma interferes

to help him through his teenage years.

She uses tough love at the start.

But soon he knows it’s from her heart.


His mother needs both drugs and men

over and over and then again.

Glenn Close and Amy Adams shine.

And other cast members are fine.


“Hillbilly Elegy” stands out

It pulls no punches. That’s no doubt.

The film shows people suffering

yet family love conquering.

I should mention how much the make-up and costumes for Close and Adams add to their ability to bring their characters to life on screen. Close has tricked us before as Albert Nobbs in her 2011 film and as Norma Desmond in the Broadway version of Sunset Boulevard. As Mamaw in Hillbilly Elegy, she is again practically unrecognizable. We accept her as Mamaw in every scene. Her tough behavior and rough language may shock us, but we appreciate her motives.

Adams loses all her glamour and shows us a Bev who once was salutatorian of her high school class but later became hooked on heroin. She makes us believe that she loves her son even though she’s an abusive mother. We desperately want her to get the help she needs. This is perhaps the most difficult role in Hillbillies Elegy, and Adams nails it.  

Yes, indeed. Glenn Close and Amy Adams should be contenders during this award season.

(Released by Netflix and rated “R” by MPAA.)

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