Hillbilly Elegy is the perfect example of how performances can elevate a movie beyond average. This is a film full of fantastic performances and people who make you believe their character and care about their story. Oscar winners who add gravitas and credibility to a movie which arguably doesn’t deserve it.
The central, stand-out performance is Amy Adams. She plays the Mum to main character JD, played by Gabriel Basso, who is unfit, unwell and dragging her son back to his hometown which he worked desperately to escape. This is a story where the prodigal son wistfully reflects as he encounters people or places from his past and we get the key moments of his life in flashback. This is where Amy Adams performance is such a strength to the film, balancing the fun, caring mother adored by her kids with the damaged individual who puts her children in danger with her reckless decisions. Its a great performance and Adams delivers it brilliantly.
The back-story to how Adam’s “Bev” came to be how she is falls to Glenn Close. Close is a reliable pair of hands in any role but here she shows again how talented she is. Framed at first as the caring surrogate Mother to JD, there is a darker side to her which comes into play in key scenes.
Hillbilly Elegy is full of these key scenes. Its a film of moments rather than a straight, well-rounded plot from beginning to end. These set-piece scenes are showcases in acting talent and each one will keep you gripped as the pieces of JD’s childhood and why he is so reluctant to return home, are slowly revealed. Balanced with the tragic story that brings him back to his family and you get a film which will keep your interest throughout.
That isn’t enough to make this film stand-out as anything we haven’t seen before though. The performances are great and the fact that it is based on a true story gives it some credibility but this is a story of tragedy, broken childhood and being created by your past and fighting against it, which we have seen in countless other films. This story feels like it lacks that originality that warrants its creation.
Overall, Hillbilly Elegy is a film which will keep you focused throughout, due to the great performances and the scenes which showcase the acting talent here. Adams and Close steal the film but you can’t help but wonder what it is about this story which warrants another version of a movie we have seen many times before.
Rating – 3.5
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