Marine veteran J.D. Vance's memoir "Hillbilly Elegy" inspired a massive cultural moment back in 2016 when big-city media used his story of growing up poor in Appalachia as a prism to explain the political upheavals of the year.
That book is now a movie directed by Ron Howard and starring Glenn Close and Amy Adams, both definitely aiming for those long-overdue Oscars they haven't won yet. The movie will have a limited theatrical run next month and stream on Netflix starting Nov. 24.
Netflix has released the first trailer.
Close plays Vance's grandmother, the woman who did most of his raising while his mom (Amy Adams) struggled with drug addiction and terrible choices in men. It was his grandmother who helped the boy find a way out via the Marine Corps, then college and eventually a degree from Yale Law School.
But it’s the Marine Corps that offers the lifeline that got Vance on track. There’s no college or law school or successful career in finance without that military service.
Vance's book eloquently captures the poverty he faced and the sense of hopelessness rampant in his community. He's equally strong on how the Marine Corps helped give him a sense of purpose and build character. And no one has better captured the sense of cultural unease that someone from a lower-class background might feel while trying to navigate the customs of the Ivy League elite.
The book has generated some controversy. Vance draws the conclusion that it was his grandmother's character and message about hard work that allowed him to escape the fate of his friends and neighbors and that Appalachian folk need to stop playing victim and get to work fixing their lives.
Navy veteran, sometimes country singer and movie actor Sturgill Simpson is a fellow Appalachian, and he's offered a typically salty take on J.D.'s success.
This is the same Sturgill who developed a taste for Japanese manga and anime while serving on Okinawa, so it's a little weird that he's dismissing J.D. as a "coastal elite" just because he spent three years in New Haven.
Could Vance open up his perspective and consider the fact that economic pressures outside of its victims' control are contributing to the poverty he endured? Absolutely. Rural Americans suffer from poor health care, spotty internet access and the kind of economic infrastructure that might give struggling regions a chance to rebuild.
That doesn't invalidate the good parts of his book, and those good parts have the potential to be a fine movie. We'll be waiting to see what Ron Howard does with the material.
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