Linda Cook review: ‘Hillbilly Elegy’ is a memoir worth watching

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Never has such a decent m

ovie taken such a critical drubbing.

Most of the time, I write my reviews before I read those of others. But this time, after I saw “Hillbilly Elegy,” I glanced at what others were saying about it, and was astonished to see how poorly it is being received.

Still, this grown-ups only film is one of the top movies on Netflix at the moment. Although it has its flaws, it’s certainly worth seeing. Some of the language and the violence is cringe-worthy – it’s not a family film even though it’s about a family.

It’s adapted from the J. D. Vance memoir of the same name about his dysfunctional Appalachian family.

Oscar winner Ron Howard directs.

Glenn Close is Mamaw, the family matriarch, and Amy Adams is Bev, the mother of J. D., who tells the story Owen Aszalos is J. D. as an adolescent and Gabriel Basso is J. D. as an adult.

Mamaw hasn’t had an easy life – she still doesn’t. She tries to help her wayward daughter, Bev (Amy Adams) who becomes an addict, as much as she can, and she also tries to encourage J. D.

Admittedly, the flashbacks are confusing, and that’s annoying. We see J.D. in two instances: In one, he is bullied, and in another, as an adult, he is pulled away from an interview to help his sister (Haley Bennett) when their mother overdoses on heroin.

Close is almost unrecognizable as Mamaw, who owns every scene in which she appears. The costumes and hairdo are spot-on, and her dialogue is great, too. I have known women like her, tough-spoken and prone to raising their voices, but always with the best interest of their families in mind.

Adams is wonderful as the abusive mother who makes all the wrong choices despite her intelligence and capabilities.

It’s not a spoiler to say that a major theme of this film is that our past does not define our future – and that applies not only to J. D. but some of the other real-life characters as well. It ends on a hopeful note.

3 out of 4 stars

Rated: R

Running time: Two hours.

Streaming on Netflix.

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