“Hillbilly Elegy” has garnered some of the worst reviews of 2020 (the film’s MetaCritic score sits at 39), with several film critics condemning the Ron Howard-directed drama for how it portrays its Appalachian setting and characters. NME critic Richard Phippen wrote the film “betrays the very people it’s trying to celebrate” by “failing to acknowledge the legitimate problems they face,” while Adam Nayman of The Ringer added, “The movie focuses on the so-called ‘forgotten’ citizens of red state America—but it has zero interest in actually exploring the group.” What do stars Amy Adams and Glenn Close make of the critical beating? Adams told NME the film’s themes are what’s most important and far outweigh its politics.
“I think the themes of this movie are very universal,” Adams said. “Whether it be generational trauma, whether it be just examining where we come from to understand where we’re going and who we are. I think the universality of the themes of the movie far transcend politics.”
Close added the film “wasn’t made with politics in mind, it was made with Ron’s intent. I think he succeeded magnificently to tell the story of a very specific family.”
“I never would presume to say what critics should or shouldn’t do,” Adams noted when asked if film critics should put politics aside when reviewing films. “Everybody has a voice and can use it how they choose to use it.”
“Hillbilly Elegy” is based on J.D. Vance’s bestselling memoir of the same name. IndieWire’s David Ehrlich awarded “Hillbilly Elegy” a C- review, writing, “The source material has been stripped of its libertarian streak (in addition to any other social commentary) and sandblasted into something that more closely resembles a shouty episode of ‘This Is Us’ in both structure and tone than it does a pre-history of the Trump era or a caricature of those who capitalized on it.”
Despite negative reviews, “Hillbilly Elegy” has remained on Netflix’s top 10 most-streamed list since debuting on the platform November 24. Read IndieWire’s interview with screenwriter Vanessa Taylor here, in which she discusses tackling the controversial elements of Vance’s novel. “Hillbilly Elegy” is now available to stream on Netflix.