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Stories on Screen: Hillbilly Elegy (2020)

Updated: Apr 6, 2021

Film is one of the best places to engage a story. During this pandemic year, stories on screens have been one of the only places I have been able to absorb anything until recently. Relatively short (in terms of telling a story), movies have a unique ability to communicate.

Hillbilly Elegy, the 2020 film produced by Netflix, is based on J.D. Vance's memoir, Hillbilly Elegy. (Published in 2016.) One of the first book reviews for The Good Logger was this book, reviewed by our own Scott Mitchell! A few months ago I listened to the book, which was fantastically read by the author. The reader of an audiobook really does make or break the book. You can read Scott's review here.

The film adaptation was very well-done and fairly true to the original memoir. One minor change that I noticed was that J.D. always went by Vance in the movie. However, in the book it's noted that J.D. had a different last name until he was a late teen or early adult. He specifically chose the surname Vance to honor a grandfather that didn't have any male heirs to carry the name.

Additionally, the film softened Mawmaw's language. The book is much more full of expletives. I was surprised because I'm sure Glenn Close could have pulled that off.

The performances by Amy Adams and Glenn Close were phenomenal. Phenomenal. Glenn Close was nearly unrecognizable; she committed wholeheartedly to her role as Mawmaw. The same can be said for Amy Adams as she portrayed a woman battling her own demons. There are few actors who really do this. (Off the top of my head I can think of Christian Bale in The Machinist and Allison Janey in I, Tonya.)

There were parts of the film that were difficult to watch because of the abuse portrayed.

Good stories show, not tell. This story shows the abbreviated story of J.D. Vance and a culture of Appalachia, the redemption of generational sin and despair.

Have you seen Hillbilly Elegy? What were your takeaways?

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