Hillbilly Elegy. The Most Overwrought Film of 2020.

Occasionally a film starts building up infamy in critical circles from the second it is released. Initially, Ron Howard’s latest project for Netflix looked like it was gunning for a major award season slot. Then critics started seeing it in earnest. The news that it was a potentially embarrassing disaster came down the pipeline. This was one of the films Netflix was giving that traditional two-week theatrical window to open cinemas.it was one of the ones that this critic might have gone and seen theatrically under normal non-pandemic circumstances. When the reviews started to come in he was glad this wasn’t the case. Nevertheless, when the film hit Netflix last week there was still a level of morbid curiosity surrounding it. It couldn’t be that bad right?
For roughly the first 20 minutes the films greatest crime is simply being dull. It’s structured as your very basic family melodrama taking place across multiple timelines. Central character JD Vance (Gabriel Basso)on whose memoir the film is based forms the narrative glue holding everything together. The opening section painting Vance as something of a blank slate. It’s not until Vance gets a call from his sister informing him that his heroin addict mother (Amy Adams)is in the hospital that the main narrative starts in earnest. From this point forward the film dramatises the interpersonal melodrama of this family across three generations and two timelines. This is where the embarrassing material starts. The film is so clearly wanting to carve out a niche for itself as prime Oscar bait but it’s so embarrassingly misjudged fat it more likely belongs with other recent WTF Hollywood films. These include Cats, The Book of Henry and Collateral Beauty. it reduces deadly serious subject matter (addiction, loss, drug and physical abuse among others)to characters screaming at each other. The screenplays attempt to say anything about the topics covered is drowned out by the fact that performances can go from 0 to 100 on the massively overacted scale in a matter of seconds. Everything is played at a level where certain lines do come across as unintentionally hilarious. The film may have an unexpected second life ahead of it as a prime folder for entertainingly terrible disasters. For as embarrassingly misjudged as it is it’s not a film any viewer is likely to forget after watching most likely for all the wrong reasons. It’s no great pleasure to report that most of the prime overacting come from Adams. One of the best actresses working today is reduced to a performance so dangerously tone-deaf it could be actively harmful to viewers looking for serious take some discussion on the difficult subject matter. Close is marginally better but this is mainly because the script reduces her role down to a purely reactionary level based on the characters around her. Saying this performance is better than Adams is like saying one variety of animal manure is slightly less pungent than another variety. Everyone involved with this embarrassing train wreck should be ashamed of themselves.
The thought that struck this critic upon finishing the film was that it represented a potential scenario where a brain dead HBO executive got to make a massively overwrought This Is Us clone. The level of potentially career-damaging embarrassment here makes Dan Fogelman’s attempt to replicate the This Is Us formula for the big screen with life itself look vaguely tolerable by comparison. For as manipulative as This Is Us can be at times. That said at its best it uses a very similar structure and the to craft emotionally compelling characters and storylines. This is delivered by one of the strongest ensemble casts on current TV. Episodes like Memphis, Superbowl Sunday and The Cabin are some of the best TV of in recent years. Hillbilly Elegy attempts to attain a similar level of emotional impact. It’s so misjudged in its attempt at this that things wind up firmly speeding off in the other direction. It makes the worst moments in any season of This Is Us look like genre-defining masterpieces by comparison.
Hillbilly Elegy is one of the most embarrassing failures in recent film. Everyone involved was gunning for a slice of prime Oscar bait. Given the final product, the film is more likely to end up a fixture of the 2021 Razzie nominations. It’s attempting to tackle deadly serious themes with the subtlety of a hammer to the face. There is a certain level of morbid fascination throughout but also the sense fat the film is misjudged to the point of being potentially dangerous. Amy Adams gives not only the worst performance of her career but one any actress worth her salt would have been embarrassed to say they delivered. The film could well wind up a fixture on a list of embarrassing Hollywood failures for decades to come. Unless viewers get a kick out of watching production’s so bad they border on embarrassing avoid at all costs.
1/10

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