Netflix has finally released the trailer for their upcoming adaptation of J.D. Vance’s critically acclaimed memoir Hillbilly Elegy.
The book was released in 2016 and told the author’s life story as a man growing up in one of the most blighted areas of Southern Ohio in a self described “Hillbilly” family. The book charted the complicated ways he was able to slowly claw his way out of intergenerational poverty, physical abuse and substance abuse through his time in the US Marines and studying at Harvard Law.
The film adaptation is coming from Ron Howard, fresh off of his reworking on Solo: A Star Wars Story in 2018.
The trailer, in the grand tradition of most Netflix trailers, doesn’t make the film look great. Hillbilly Elegy is a heart breaking personal memoir told from the perspective of a child growing up in a trouble household. The trailer doesn’t seem to be prioritizing Vance’s story. The footage shown looks like a half-baked Oscar-bait film designed to usher Amy Adams or Glenn Close into the Best Actress category at next year’s Oscars.
I’m sure the actual film will preserve some of the integrity of the book’s story. A book like Hillbilly Elegy is hard given how much the book focuses on white-lower class issues. Considering how deeply those ideas have been tied to the legacy of President Trump, one can imagine why the movie is advertising itself as a performance movie to get mainstream appeal.
Vance isn’t without his critics. Journalists, mostly on the left, have made a strong effort to excoriate his book as a repackaging of old conservative prejudices in a sympathetic package. The New Republic dismissed Vance as “the liberal media’s favorite white trash–splainer.”
“Elegy is little more than a list of myths about welfare queens repackaged as a primer on the white working class.”Sarah Jones, The New Republic, November 17, 2016
Salon, The Guardian and Jacobin have levied similar critiques against Vance and Hillbilly Elegy. Alternatively, The New York Times praised the book for it’s immense sympathy for poor white Americans and called it “a compassionate, discerning sociological analysis of the white underclass.”
Vance is an outspoken Republican so it’s not hard to see why some leftists would come out against his work. That said, it speaks to the quality of his writing and empathy that he’s earned the ear of some traditional liberals.
If anything, the choice of Ron Howard to direct is a choice made to make the film as neutral and inoffensive as possible. Howard has made numerous great films like Apollo 13 and Cinderella Man however his voice isn’t overly aggressive. One thing is for sure, his brother Clint Howard is almost certainly going to have a cameo in the film as he always does!
Hillbilly Elegy will be releasing on Netflix and in select theaters on November 24th! J.D. Vance’s book is also available anywhere books are sold and I dually recommend it!