Movie Notes: Hillbilly Elegy

I liked the book more, to be honest, but it’s a good, solid movie. I have no idea what all the fuss is about and why people are making it about Trump. There’s not a shade of anything political in the movie.

The part I didn’t like is what makes it a typical Hollywood film and not a work of art. It’s the part about the exceptional one-in-a-million striver who overcomes and gets ahead through hard work. I understand that the movie is biographical, and this is truly what happened to JD Vance. I deeply admire him. But the movies about exceptional strivers abound. I’ve seen a million of them. What I’d like to see is a movie about the unexceptionable, the run of the mill, the regular. I’m interested in their lives.

But this is typical Hollywood. A predictable, saccharine mold that turns everything into a sappy soap opera. In other countries, filmmakers know how to make movies about normal people but in the US it never happens anymore.

Within the genre of Hollywood movies, Hillbilly Elegy is great. Everybody except for the guy playing JD as an adult is s very good actor. The actors all look eerily like the people they are playing. Glenn Close is amazing but we always knew that.

There is a scene at a fancy dinner at Yale early in the movie that’s a terrible cliche and deathly boring but once you get past that, it gets a lot better.

That this extremely typical Hollywood movie suddenly got so controversial because it’s based on the book by somebody who is conservative shows how crazy people have become. It’s gotten so nuts that I’ve seen people seriously debate whether the portrayal of Kentucky fauna in the film is true to life.

Not everything is political, folks. This is a movie about growing up in an abusive, dysfunctional, chaotic household. The book does make an effort to draw conclusions about society and history. But the movie isn’t about that at all.

P.S. Here is what I wrote about the book back when I was a passionate Hillary supporter.

6 thoughts on “Movie Notes: Hillbilly Elegy

  1. The fuss is mostly from people who feel that Vance made up or distorted a lot of what he wrote in the book. He isn’t really from Appalachia and people who know the region well feel that he’s just recycling old stereotypes rather than producing something that is an accurate reflection of life in the region. I have a friend who is a Sociologist based in Appalachia, she is VERY familiar with the problems of the region and is not the type to sugar coat or romanticize anything. She can’t stand Vance and thinks he’s a total fake who put the “hillbilly” spin on a mostly made-up story to market it. I’ve never bothered to read it based on her extremely negative review.

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    1. The thing is, it’s not about life in the region. It’s about abusive families. Which are the same in every region of the world. I watched the movie alone, for instance, because I know that my husband can’t deal with the portrayal of abuse that is so similar to what he experienced as a child.

      It’s really curious that I haven’t even seen any reviews that recognize how much the book and especially the film are about abusive families. The movie, in particular, makes zero generalizations. It’s all about family dysfunction, generational trauma, and whether you can shake the legacy of such a family.

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  2. Yesterday Tucker got into the reasons of why the meritocracy is hated by today’s elites. The negative feedback that the movie gets is a part of this phenomenon. If the character was trans or black, the movie would be the best ever in the eyes of critics.

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  3. I love the book, and have many friends and relatives who were born and raised in the Hillbilly South. To me, the book rings true. I want to see the movie.

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  4. Haven’t read the book or seen the movie, but have caught a lot of Twitter drama about the movie. Apparently, they’re faulting it for not exploring or accurately portraying the hill people’s culture (which, as I understand, is pretty unique) and instead focusing on — exactly as you say — family drama that could’ve been set anywhere. In other words, they slam the movie for being a generic family story with a hefty serving of redneck stereotypes and poverty porn.

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    1. It’s like criticizing a fantasy novel for not being a lyrical poem. 🙂 People who want a sociological treatise shouldn’t look for it in the autobiography genre. The guy wanted to create a tribute to his grandma, so he did. It didn’t address causes of the loss of the Roman Empire because that’s not the goal.

      You are a writer, so you know what I mean about people projecting expectations onto a work of literature.

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