Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Hillbilly Elegy


The reviews were downright vicious. Some called it one of the worst movies of the year. Many others said it is the worst movie Ron Howard has ever made. The smackdowns were so bad that The Onion ran a story with the headline “Defensive Ron Howard: ‘You Try Making A Good Movie About Fucking Hillbillies.’” I sampled a few articles about it, and it seemed to me that most of them objected to both the best-selling book and the movie from a political agenda, and oddly enough, both sides of the aisle had something to hate. It stereotyped hillbillies. Or, it glorified shiftless welfare moms. None of it made sense to me.

One other objection was equally puzzling. It was called “Oscar bait.” As if making a movie and hoping for awards is a bad thing. I was personally a victim of this kind of thinking, having been accused of belonging to something called “The Labor Day Group,” with other writers of my generation like Vonda McIntyre and George RR Martin. A sore loser by the name of Thomas Disch accused us of writing stories with Hugo Awards in mind. I pled guilty, if writing the best stories I could write made me so. Fuck him (in the grave), and fuck the reviewers who accused Glenn Close and Amy Adams of somehow having crass motives. Almost everyone agreed that both of them were really good here.

So how is the film? Well, only so-so, to me. For one thing, I am usually made queasy about films concerning people who are still living. Doesn’t mean I can’t like them, even love them, like The Crown or Bombshell. But this shit is pretty raw. This Kentucky/Ohio family really puts the funk back in dysfunctional. Mom is a drug addict, and probably bipolar at the least. The end credits show a picture of her, and the news that she has been sober for six years. As for Mamaw, why, that old gal set fire to Papaw one time. But they is all family, doncha know, so you stick together at all costs. Conclusion: It ain’t so bad as some folks say, but it’s not great, either.