Fans of JD Vance's best-selling memoir, Hillbilly Elegy, will appreciate how the film adaptation has brought some scenes and relationships from memorable page to screen. The verdant hill country of poor, white Kentucky; a fancy Yale dinner with a confusing array of cutlery; the vicious cycles of poverty, addiction, and abuse that are so difficult to break out of.
As the end credits confirm with photos of Vance's real family, the filmmakers also did a remarkable job styling the actors to look like the real people they're portraying. Close is nearly unrecognizable as Mamaw and fully embodies the character.
But none of this will matter as much to newcomers to Vance's tale, and the movie doesn't construct as compelling a life story as the source material did. Rather than telling Vance's tale chronologically, the script aims to draw parallels between turning points and key events in two key years of life, intermittently employing a voiceover for clarity.
The parallels aren't particularly subtle, and chunks of Vance's life between high school and law school have basically been skipped over. A tunnel metaphor employed whenever characters enter or leave their decaying Ohio town feels a bit obvious. The film's final scenes carry implicit messages about success that may or may not resonate with viewers' own experiences.
Read the full review at Common Sense Media.