Hillbilly Elegy ½

Along with Ron Howard’s many directorial hits, like Apollo 13, The Paper, and Cocoon, he’s had a few major misses — primarily the Da Vinci Code franchise. But he’s never missed as badly as he does with the Netflix film Hillbilly Elegy. Adapted from J.D. Vance’s memoir of the same name, with a star-laden cast and a story concerning an unlikely protagonist overcoming a meager, turbulent environment, the Ohio-set family drama is a throwback to 1990s Oscar bait like Forrest Gump and Scent of a Woman, feel-good stories rendered for inspirational purposes. Hillbilly Elegy also arrives at an odd moment in history. The Netflix drama serves as a true-life parable for the forgotten Rust Belt that swooned for Donald Trump after he promised to restore the area’s financial standing.

Even though J.D. (Gabriel Basso) considers himself a Jackson Kentuckian at heart, he hails from Middletown, Ohio. Communities like Middletown are dotted across America’s heartland. They sprung up around once-thriving factories. But you wouldn’t know it today. The foot traffic on Middletown’s streets is sparse. The shops are boarded up. The factory is cold. The disadvantaged community is left in limbo, waiting for jobs that’ll probably never return. If Howard worked to tell this story through clear eyes, the drama would help us understand a region of the country that’s long felt misunderstood and abandoned. Instead, Howard’s Hillbilly Elegy conflates one man’s story as emblematic of a community, in short-sighted terms. It isn’t just a disservice to Vance, but to the inhabitants of the Rust Belt as well. [full review via Polygon]