2020 has been one hell of a year for movies. Most of the movies that we expected to see by this point late in the year have chosen to delay their release, and so the highly anticipated movies of 2020 are now all the highly anticipated movies of 2021. In a normal year we'd be knee deep in awards bait movies, and while it's still largely unclear what awards season is going to look like this year, many of the films that were being seen as potential awards fodder are still moving forward. Case in point, Ron Howard's Hillbilly Elegy.
A movie directed by Ron Howard and starring the likes of Amy Adams and Glenn Close feels like a movie that was largely designed from infancy to be an awards contender. Pile on top of that that the movie is based on a New York Times best-selling memoir and you have what would normally be a recipe for Oscar gold. And yet, not this time, it would seem. Reviews for Hillbilly Elegy seem to run the gamut from mediocre to devastating. CinemaBlend's Eric Eisenberg gave the film two stars saying...
Save for its best performances, it’s merely another rote story about basic family drama and accepting one’s own roots, and is unable to possess any real emotional impact.
And that may be one of the more polite responses to Ron Howard's new movie. Most of the rest of the reviews are pretty brutal. The story, about a man coming to terms with his past and his family, is certainly a story that can be full of emotion and drama, but the general consensus is simply that the movie doesn't dive deep enough, giving us a look at these characters that feels sanitized. As the AV Club puts it...
Hillbilly Elegy just reinforces the stereotypes it insists it's illuminating.
It isn't interested in the systems that create poverty and addiction and ignorance; it just wants to pretend that one straight white guy's ability to rise above his surroundings means that there's no excuse for everyone else not to have done so as well.
Polished but pedestrian, Hillbilly Elegy is a boilerplate underdog tale that lacks bite - but gives good Glenn Close.
If there is a general consensus regarding Hillbilly Elegy, it's that the movie is clearly meant to be an awards season movie, and that it very much feels like it's trying to be that. It's not great, but maybe it's not terrible either. It's just a disappointment.