Hillbilly Elegy ★★
Starring Amy Adams, Glenn Close, Gabriel Basso, Owen Asztalos, Freida Pinto, Haley Bennett
Brick Tamland unknowingly reviewed this film when the first Anchorman film was released. He so eloquently shouted: "I don't know what we're yelling about!" And this is exactly how I felt just a few minutes into the newest film from Ron Howard.
Hillbilly Elegy sees a Yale student returning to his hometown in Ohio in a time of family crisis. If only this film could have shown crisis in a more inventive way than just having its potentially incredible cast shout at and slap one another.
It was expected, when the film was known to be in production, that this would be the film to give Amy Adams and Glenn Close their Oscars...but that will definitely not be the case. Bev Vance (Adams) has her fair share of problems and it could have been a very intricate and heartfelt performance; instead she is violent and chaotic and never given a chance to act as she's too busy screaming. Glenn Close's Mamaw on the other hand, doesn't seem at all loving until the final thirty minutes, at which point we already have an idea of what kind of character we thought she was meant to be. Close did however give a great physical performance, and I'll admit some moments between her and J.D (Owen Asztalos) are slightly heartfelt, particularly the scene with the Algebra test, but this was shrouded by awkward storytelling and major pacing issues.
The film didn't build anything up. Its use of jarring flashbacks made it impossible to build any resonation with the characters; I almost think a linear narrative would have been a more effective use here. The characters didn't have enough battle within themselves to make them compelling, besides J.D (Gabriel Basso), but even then the performance was lacking some grit. There didn't appear to be a particular amount of want from him or anyone around him, apart from Usha, played by a much welcomed Freida Pinto, a symbol of balance for J.D.
This film's major issue however comes through the gawky script using racism and xenophobia, often in a comedic way. I found it distasteful and no real backlash came from any of the discriminative comments. It could have so elegantly showed the difference in generation but instead it didn't deliver any message to its audience.
This film doesn't seem to sustain an idea of where it is set, which makes the loosely inputted 90's soundtrack feel rather out of place. And with a "...this is what happened next..." kind of conclusion, I felt that no real story had been told. Shouting louder does not make for a better film and it definitely doesn't show off your actors...unless you're Anchorman!
Hillbilly Elegy available now on Netflix