Here's What Critics Think of Ron Howard's 'Hillbilly Elegy'

On Tuesday morning, the review embargo for Ron Howard's latest film Hillbilly Elegy lifted. Folks critiqued the film, an adaptation of J.D. Vance's 2016 novel of the same name, and the verdict is in: people didn't like it.

ah, the HILLBILLY ELEGY embargo is up. *sips coffee*

— David Sims (@davidlsims) November 10, 2020

Rotten Tomatoes states that the film garnered a 21 percent approval rating. The film follows Yale Law student J.D. Vance back to his Appalachian hometown, where he reflects on his family's history and his own future. Though Hillbilly Elegy boasts Glenn Close and Amy Adams in roles that could possibly (and finally) win them Oscars, the film did not impress critics.

Watching the Hillbilly Elegy movie get dragged to hell and back is sustaining me today

— Kim Kelly (@GrimKim) November 10, 2020

David Ehlrich of IndieWire wrote: "It will stir no controversy, enflame the minimum number of thinkpieces demanded by the moment (most of which will focus on the value of such a blandly "purple" movie at the height of our red/blue divide), and earn a party favor's worth of awards for its cast. Some will feel seen, others will feel excused from looking closer, and most will feel nothing." Ultimately, he gave the film a C-.

"For all of the favors that Howard does to the subject of his biopic, the director can only do so much to disguise the self-serving nature of a story that was always less about where Vance came from than it was about where he wanted to go," Ehrlich concluded.

The Hollywood Reporter's Sheri Linden said that "Whatever lessons it might want to impart, Hillbilly Elegy doesn't romanticize its subjects or package their struggles in neat bromides or cornpone redemption," adding: "There are moments that clang off-key or land with the flatness of cliché, but there are also sharp observations across the urban-rural divide."

Amy Adams Hillbilly Elegy
Amy Adams as Bev in "Hillbilly Elegy." Lacey Terrell/NETFLIX © 2020

Clayton Davis of Variety said that "For a story that hones in on the' Appalachian values' and the 'American dream,' this is likely to be eaten up by a certain 70 million-person demographic, with a few select Academy members." However, the remainder of the entertainment watching population, Hillbilly Elegy "looks like a failure to read the room, in an effort to provide another example that 'all lives matter' and there are 'very fine people on both sides.'"

Vox's Alissa Wilkinson wrote that it was "possibly the worst movie" she had seen in years. "[A] rich person's idea of what it is like to be a poor person, a tone-deaf attempt to assuage a very particular kind of liberal guilt by reifying the very thing that caused the guilt in the first place," she said.

Whew, guys, the HILLBILLY ELEGY movie is bad, in some ways I expected and others I really did not.

— Alissa Wilkinson (@alissamarie) November 10, 2020

Richard Lawson of Vanity Fair called it "shameless Oscar bait." "Hillbilly Elegy is both witless cosplay and a failure to interrogate any of the book's controversial insinuations," Lawson wrote.

Independent film critic Clarisse Loughrey said that she does not "look forward to the discourse around this film."

HILLBILLY ELEGY is irredeemably bad & made me very angry. I do not look forward to the discourse around this film

— Clarisse Loughrey (@clarisselou) November 10, 2020

The Daily Beast's Kevin Fallon said that the film "really is that bad," but Amy Adams was very good, as usual.

Hillbilly Elegy really is that bad, but I can’t shake the feeling that there’s going to be another Green Book situation with it. (FWIW I thought Amy Adams actually was very good, but the sky is blue, grass is green, etc.)

— Kevin Fallon (@kpfallon) November 10, 2020

DiscussingFilm's Frankie Gilmore said: "Netflix executives must have read the book and thought that by toning down the more unambiguously conservative messaging, it would be a surefire, party-line crossing hit. What it became instead is a bloated disaster that is accidentally one of the cruelest and thematically bizarre pieces of cinema I've ever seen."

Adding: "Hillbilly Elegy will convince viewers that the American dream is alive and well, when really, the film is proof that it's merely a lie we tell ourselves and a way of tricking and shaming the poor into believing they have no one but themselves to blame."

Hillbilly Elegy will be in select theaters starting November 11, and available to stream on Netflix starting November 24.