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Movie Review: J.D. Vance's Story, 'Hillbilly Elegy,' Starring Amy Adams and Glenn Close

J.D. Vance (left, AP photo) and Glenn Close and Amy Adams in "Hillbilly Elegy"

J.D. Vance was an author when Hillbilly Elegy starring Amy Adams and Glenn Close came out in 2020. He's since won the Republican primary for a U.S. Senate seat in Ohio (he's running against Rep. Tim Ryan).

So I decided to watch the film on Netflix.

It's about Vance's teenage years growing up in a poor Kentucky family. His mother Bev (Adams) is a heroin addict. Her dependence is like an albatross on the family; no one is spared.

Young J.D. (Owen Asztalos) struggles in school and at home. He smokes pot with friends and is bullied. A few years later, as Bev goes in and out of rehabs, older J.D. (Gabriel Basso) tries to overcome his unbringing and get accepted at Yale Law School, which he does by hook or by crook.

Adams gains weight for the role; Bev's swollen and beaten down from years of addiction. Taking it out on the kids, she's not a very sympathetic character. Nor is her surly mother Meemaw (Glenn Close). 

Close has become the go-to mom in domestic stories that feature out-of control drug use. In last year's Four Good Days, she does her best to help another struggling daughter (in this case, MIla Kunis). In Hillbilly Elegy, Meemaw takes no guff from J.D. or anyone else and dishes it right back with gusto. She's a powerful presence in both films.

Though it's his story - he wrote the memoir in 2016 - Vance is kind of a supporting character to Golden Globe winners Adams and Close. He makes all the right choices and eventually achieves his goal. And Bev succeeds in getting sober, as most such movies show at the end to offer hope that addicts can make it if they really try.

While Close received Academy Award and Golden Globe supporting actress nominations for Hillbilly Elegy, the film was roasted with three Golden Rasberry noms for Worst Director (Ron Howard), Worst Actress (Close) abnd Worst Screenplay.

What we don't learn from the film is Vance, after high school, enlisted in the Marines. Post Ohio State Universary and Yale, he went to work for Peter Thiel's Mithril Capital. In 2019, Vance founded Narya Capital and hatched a plan to run for office in Ohio. 

Vance criticized Donald Trump in 2016, but five years later he parroted Trump's lies about the 2020 election in order to gain his support. Trump endorsed Vance in April. In May, Vance defeated two opponents in the primary, thanks to Trump's backing. It's a key swing race in November.

Following Vance's victory, Howard told The Hollywood Reporter: "I always knew he was conservative, but [he] struck me as a very center-right, a kind of a moderate thinker. [The movie] ended with him at Yale and wasn’t ever meant to suggest he was headed in the direction of politics.” Howard noted he was “surprised by some of the positions [Vance has] taken and statements he’s made” after working on the film. 

One such Vance statement claimed Joe Biden is "flooding Ohio with illegal drugs." Here's the exact quote

"If you wanted to kill a bunch of MAGA voters in the middle of the heartland, how better than to target them and their kids with this deadly fentanyl? … It does look intentional. It’s like Joe Biden wants to punish the people who didn’t vote for him and opening up the floodgates to the border is one way to do it.”

Perhaps to his chagrin, Howard's film can be used as propaganda to the tell the story of a man who pulled himself up by the bootstraps to perhaps become a U.S. Senator. 

 

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Steve Bloom

Steve Bloom

Publisher of CelebStoner.com, former editor of High Times and Freedom Leaf and co-author of Pot Culture and Reefer Movie Madness.