Hillbilly Elegy Film Fails to Capture Memoir’s Nuances

by Quincy Marks

Public Relations Manager

Netflix’s movie adaptation of J.D. Vance’s memoir Hillbilly Elegy recounts Vance’s journey as he breaks free from the cycle of poverty. The original memoir tells a much broader story than just Vance’s life, touching on high unemployment rates, rampant drug addiction, and the reasons behind Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential win. Vance’s dual identity — a hillbilly and an Ivy League graduate — is what makes his story so unique. However, the movie adaptation fails to address the topics that made Vance’s memoir so memorable. 

The movie constantly switches scenes between Vance’s childhood and his time at Yale Law School. These sudden changes between time periods and locations can be confusing and dilute the sentiment of the scene. The film never showcases one scene long enough for viewers to immerse themselves, creating a chaotic viewing experience. 

Only focusing on Vance’s childhood, the movie leaves out important milestones in his life, such as his journey to Ohio State and his time spent in the Marines. The director also chose to minimize the roles of Lindsay, Vance’s sister, and Peepaw, Vance’s grandfather. Instead, the movie revolves around the unstable relationship between Meemaw and Bev. It is apparent that the director wanted to showcase Meemaw’s extreme role in Vance’s upbringing, a strength throughout the movie. 

In an NPR interview, Vance encompasses his hillbilly roots, noting that “Americans call them hillbillies, rednecks or white trash. I call them neighbors, friends, and family.” This feeling of camaraderie that Vance expresses is not present in the movie. As much of the movie is focuses onVance’s time at Yale, there seems to be a disconnect between Vance and his roots, something that is not present in the novel. The director tries to paint a picture of triumph and success in Vance’s life, which ruins the raw emotion and true relationship between Vance’s family.

While the storyline lacks substance, the overall acting and cinematography are great, as Amy Adams and Glenn Close depict their characters well; nevertheless, these A-list actors still do not cover up the faults in the film. For those who have not read the novel, Hillbilly Elegy is a perfect movie to watch if you have nothing else to do. However, for those who have read the novel, you will surely be disappointed by the lackluster adaptation. 

(Sources: AP, NPR)

Photo courtesy Jacobin Mag

Categories: Culture, Web Exclusive

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