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What Is This Hillbilly Elegy Netflix Movie Trailer?

What is Hillbilly Elegy? It appears to be an upcoming Netflix film based on a best-selling memoir that screams “Oscar bait” at the top of its lungs. Unfortunately, based on the trailer, we’re not biting.

From what I can tell from the trailer, this is the story of a mother and daughter with major issues, struggling in their corner of America with substance abuse, poverty, and lack of access to education and other opportunities. We’ve got Glenn Close as the matriarch, Mawmaw, and Amy Adams as her troubled daughter Bev, who is also struggling with mothering her children.

Close and Adams look like they’re acting their little butts off, and I’m excited for the sparks that will fly between them as they both don the requisite padding and unflattering makeup to vie for the Oscar they have both been denied for so long. Both are incredible actresses who may well make this watchable. But could these two powerhouses in the same film cancel out each other’s Oscar chances? Or does that not matter because awards are meaningless and who knows if the Oscars will even happen this year? Or is this movie likely to fall flat and the performances won’t even be considered? The trailer doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence.

This movie definitely wants to be Oscar-bait. Directed by Ron Howard, it looks like it’s trying to tell a sweeping story of multiple generations, which I don’t think the trailer really gets through. There’s a third-generation involved here, Bev’s son, J.D., and watching the trailer, it’s extremely unclear to me that he’s the only son in the picture and actually the focus of the story. The trailer seems to be jumping back and forth in time and to various points in J.D.’s life. I feel like we’ve already seen the whole movie here, and can probably guess at most of its beats.

Here Netflix’s official summary to explain better (and potentially spoil a big plot point):

J.D. Vance (Gabriel Basso), a former Marine from southern Ohio and current Yale Law student, is on the verge of landing his dream job when a family crisis forces him to return to the home he’s tried to forget. J.D. must navigate the complex dynamics of his Appalachian family, including his volatile relationship with his mother Bev (Amy Adams), who’s struggling with addiction. Fueled by memories of his grandmother Mamaw (Glenn Close), the resilient and whip-smart woman who raised him, J.D. comes to embrace his family’s indelible imprint on his own personal journey.

Based on J.D. Vance’s #1 New York Times Bestseller and directed by Academy Award winner Ron Howard, HILLBILLY ELEGY is a powerful personal memoir that offers a window into one family’s personal journey of survival and triumph. By following three colorful generations through their unique struggles, J.D.’s family story explores the highs and lows that define his family’s experience.

This movie may end up being good in the traditional sense. Maybe? The performances look excellent and judged on its own the story sounds moving enough. Author J.D. Vance has become “the voice of the Rust Belt” through his memoir, TV appearances, and other writings. But everything onscreen looks rather heavy-handed, and I am so tired of these kinds of movies. I am also exhausted by movie narratives where the central women are defined, in the end, by their relationships to men, be it husbands or sons or grandsons. Maybe I’m overreacting, but 2020 has truly changed the way I see movies and what I want to see in movies. And, unfortunately for Netflix and Ron Howard, this ain’t it.

Hillbilly Elegy premieres on Netflix November 24.

(image: Lacey Terrell/NETFLIX © 2020)

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Jessica Mason (she/her) is a writer based in Portland, Oregon with a focus on fandom, queer representation, and amazing women in film and television. She's a trained lawyer and opera singer as well as a mom and author.