6.5/10 Based upon the popular memoir which I haven’t read, “Hillbilly Elegy” has taken a lashing from critics but I believe undeservedly so and strictly for personal political reasons. The film is far from perfect, but there are definitely some great elements to appreciate. I wonder if some critics hate this film since it gives a great example of disproving the myth of white privilege, which would go against their narrative. Anyone from any race can be born into dire circumstances and struggle and in real life and as portrayed in this film, Appalachia is one of those places where many white people struggle to get out of the cycle of poverty, alcoholism and drug abuse. On the positive side, most of the acting is phenomenal. Glenn Close gives another Oscar worthy performance and the always reliable Amy Adams delivers the goods as well. Most of the cast puts in fine work and the supporting actors all feel very authentic, like they were real people from Appalachia and not actors, but the real standout is Close, who almost looks unrecognizable as she disappears into her role. The production and costume design are extremely fitting as the back wood forests come alive before our eyes. There is an uplifting ending and an overall positive message about setting your mind to accomplish your goals and having the inner strength to overcome great adversity. The score (co-scored by Hans Zimmer) isn’t the most memorable but it perfectly aligns with the environment and emotions that the film conveys. As for the negative aspects, everything leading up to the ending is pretty much a depressing downer of a film to watch. Despite being more good than bad, I don’t see myself revisiting the film again because it is 90% really depressing child abuse, neglect, drug addiction, hopelessness. While we have to see that ugliness to appreciate the beauty of the ending, it is almost two hours of unpleasantness that isn’t fun to watch. Our leading man, Gabriel Basso, was rather underwhelming and disappointing to me as I felt he lacked screen presence. Speaking of lacking, while Ron Howard doesn’t make any terrible directorial decisions, he continues to have a very vanilla, lifeless directing style, or lack thereof. This could have been a grittier, dirtier film but Howard directs it glossier and sappy at times. The emotional elements mostly work really well and I found myself holding back tears in several scenes but some of the sappiness does creep in to hurt the overall quality. In the end I would still recommend the film because it does something that few Hollywood films these days do; provide a good moral message and uplifts your spirits. You just have to wade through the moss covered, alligator ridden swamps before you make it to dry land. If you’d like to take that journey or not, well that is up to you.
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