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Film Of The Week Hillbilly Elegy

Maria Duarte recommends a touching portrayal of a troubled Appalachian childhood

Hillbilly Elegy
Directed by Ron Howard

“WHERE we come from is who we are but we choose every day who we become,” says JD Vance as he attempts to reconcile his Appalachian upbringing and identity with his pursuit of the American Dream.

It is based on JD Vance’s New York Times bestseller — a powerful memoir of his life and family.

The film follows three generations of “hillbilly royalty” — as Vance’s grandmother Mamaw (Glenn Close) describes them — as seen through the eyes of Vance (Gabriel Basso), a Yale law student who, on the verge of landing his dream job, is forced back home to deal with another crisis involving his drug-addicted mother Bev (Amy Adams).

Told in a non-linear structure, Ron Howard’s first feature film foray with Netflix provides poignant snapshots of key moments in Vance’s Kentucky childhood as a 14-year-old lad (Owen Asztalos), who has a volatile relationship with his mum and is raised by his brutally honest and larger-than-life gran.

They are weaved seamlessly with his idyllic present in New Haven with his loving Indian girlfriend Usha (Freida Pinto), who remains in the dark about his upbringing and his relatives.

It is a raw and frank portrayal of flawed and abused characters from the rural US attempting to overcome their baggage and is driven by two powerhouse performances from Close and Adams (the spitting image of their characters, as the end credits show) — who proves her extraordinary talent once more in playing another unsympathetic and troubled woman with humanity and dimension.

While it touches on the snobbery, social disdain and discrimination that Vance faced, this is a drama about family and the power and potency of love. As Mamaw tells Vance: “Family’s the only thing that means a God damn.” Who can argue with that?

Screening in select cinemas in Scotland and Wales, streaming on Netflix from November 24.

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