Hillbilly Elegy Parent Guide
This film offers an interesting story but it takes its sweet time getting to the point.
Parent Movie Review
Growing up in Kentucky and Ohio, young J.D. Vance (Owen Asztalos) struggles to fit in. His mother, Bev (Amy Adams) has never been stable so J.D. winds up bouncing between his mother’s jobs, boyfriends, and homes. Although they live near his grandmother, Mamaw (Glenn Close) can only do so much to rein in her daughter. But despite his turbulent upbringing, J.D. has made it all the way to Yale Law School, where he is now interviewing for summer internships with some prestigious law firms.
At the cusp of success, J.D. receives bad news: a heroin overdose has put Bev in the hospital. Now J.D. is forced to balance making his way out of crushing poverty with contributing to the wellbeing of his family.
This is one of those slow, ponderous movies that feels significantly longer than it is. Although it clocks in under two hours, the leisurely pacing makes the film feel closer to three. Hillbilly Elegy likes to take its time introducing backstory, so meaning and significance builds up over time – with the downside that some of the early scenes can feel a little chaotic.
The “R” rating is well earned for profanity alone, which is certainly present in almost impressive quantities – Mamaw in particular is partial to cussing, but she is not the only culprit. More worrying for most parents will be the drug use in the film. Although drug use is portrayed very negatively, there are still depictions of teen drug use and drinking, along with more serious use in adults. This is based on a true story, and the hard drug use and criminal behavior have serious consequences, both for the individuals involved and for the people who care about them.
Hillbilly Elegy offers an interesting story but it certainly takes its sweet time getting to the point. I’m struggling to pin down specifically what isn’t working in this movie – the script is perfectly reasonable, the acting is impressive, and the casting is remarkable – but something isn’t quite clicking. As a result, the entire movie feels a little hollow. As someone who theoretically watches movies professionally, I’ll admit it’s frustrating not being able to isolate the problem. My diagnostic failures aside, there are solid aspects to this film. At its core, it’s an exploration of the American Dream – and what happens when that dream sours.Directed by Ron Howard. Starring Haley Bennett, Amy Adams, and Glenn Close. Running time: 116 minutes. Theatrical release November 24, 2020. Updated November 25, 2020
Watch the trailer for Hillbilly Elegy
Rating & Content Info
Why is Hillbilly Elegy rated R? Hillbilly Elegy is rated R by the MPAA for language throughout, drug content and some violence.
The movie contains approximately 85 instances of coarse and/or sexual language. This includes frequent use of the sexual expletive and variations in a non-sexual context; frequent use of scatological slang, cursing, profanity, and vulgar expressions; infrequent use of sexual slurs
Infrequent portrayals of hand-to-hand and weapons violence, some in a domestic violence context - little blood, no detail; infrequent portrayals of self-harm wounds and medical emergencies - some blood, little detail
Infrequent portrayals of alcohol, tobacco, cannabis, and illegal substance use, some in an addiction context. There is a scene of drug use involving nitrous oxide.
Page last updated November 25, 2020
Hillbilly Elegy Parents' Guide
What kind of responsibility does J.D. have to his family, considering how they’ve treated him in the past? What do you think is the cause of all his family dysfunction? How do you think family members could behave differently to change their family dynamics and help one another?
Drug use is a major theme of the film. What are some barriers to treatment that addicts face? How does poverty impact the accessibility to rehabilitation and hospital care? What could the system do better to meet the needs of people struggling with drug addiction?
For more about the current opioid epidemic sweeping the US, check these links:
Time: The Opioid Diaries
The New York Times: Opioid Epidemic
Loved this movie? Try these books…
This film is an adaptation of J.D. Vance’s bestselling memoir, Hillbilly Elegy.
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Poverty is an issue that has ben covered in numerous films. The Breadwinnershows a young girl who goes to extraordinary lengths to help provide for her family in Afghanistan. The Korean film, Parasite, sees members of a poor family working for a wealthy one; raising issues of honesty, fairness, integrity, and social class. Beasts of the Southern Wild sets an imaginative tale in the American South. Slumdog Millionaire portrays the stark poverty of urban India. A community struggling with the legacy of Canada’s residential schools finds a glimmer of hope in The Grizzlies.