Movie audiences seeking an escape from their own dysfunctional families this Thanksgiving had the option to turn to Ron Howard’s Hillbilly Elegy, an adaptation of the memoirs of J.D. Vance, a Kentucky boy who fought against personal and cultural obstacles in order to achieve success as an attorney. Howard’s new film, in select theaters and available on Netflix, follows J.D. at different stages of his journey, though he’s always bookended by the mother (Amy Adams) who held him back, thanks to her own addictions.
While interviewing the cast of Hillbilly Elegy, I explained to them my guttural reaction to Amy Adams’ character, Beverly, a heroin addict and a very young mother who feels like she has traded in her own life in order to “provide” for her children. When I asked if it was wrong to root against Bev in the movie, the cast gave me their own thoughts on the push and pull of the movie’s central relationship. Press play on the above video to see what they had to say.
There comes a time, in every abusive relationship, where the person on the receiving end has to stand up for themselves and say, “Enough is enough.” As Ron Howard notes, there’s a pivotal scene in Hillbilly Elegy where the older J.D. (played by Gabriel Basso) has to make a tough decision between his future, and the past that’s anchoring him in Kentucky. Howard notes that every audience member is going to bring their own baggage to the film, but in terms of the J.D. versus Beverly debate, he had this to say:
What I really admire about J.D. is that he came to understand the baggage that he carried with him from his family, but also the strengths. And to make decisions, to accept the support, to accept the help that would help him to actualize [and] maximize his potential without rejecting everything about his past or walking away from his family. That wasn’t really an option for him. What I think he has chosen is a tougher path.
Howard says that it really was his challenge, while making the movie, to reflect how complicated it was for J.D. Vance to pick between his mother (played by Amy Adams) and his potential future. Adams isn’t playing a clear-cut villain. But the actress tells me she understands exactly why I, as the audience, was rooting against her. Adams said:
I do identify with [that]. And I think, ultimately, that’s the choice he had to make, was to claim his life and untether himself from any sort of codependency with his mom. You were doing the right thing, rooting for J.D. to leave her with her demons.