This week in films that I just…I just can’t: the first trailer for Ron Howard’s adaptation of J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy is now live.
Based on Vance’s bestselling memoir about growing up in, and then escaping from, an abandoned Rust Belt town ravaged by poverty and drug addiction, the film looks to have a pair of Oscar-courting performances by Amy Adams (as Bev, Vance’s volatile addict mother) and Glenn Close (as Mamaw, the resilient, tough-as-nails woman who raised him).
Hillbilly Elegy was a full-blown sensation upon its release four years ago, on the fraught eve of the darkness that has since enveloped us. It spent months on the New York Times bestseller list and briefly made Vance the darling of the cable news interview circuit. Reactions to the book, in traditionally liberal outlets at least, were somewhat polarized. Jennifer Senior of the New York Times called it “a compassionate, discerning sociological analysis of the white underclass that has helped drive the politics of rebellion, particularly the ascent of Donald J. Trump,” while Sarah Jones of the New Republic labeled Vance “the false prophet of Blue America,” dismissing him as “a flawed guide to this world” and the book as little more than “a list of myths about welfare queens repackaged as a primer on the white working class.”
Perhaps the most astute assessment of the Hillbilly Elegy phenomenon, however, came from Bob Hutton in Jacobin:
Hillbilly Elegy staunchly defends the up-by-your-own-bootstraps fairy tale that capitalism has always used to win support from the underclasses.
But of course, the book is not aimed at that underclass (few books are), but rather a middle- and upper-class readership more than happy to learn that white American poverty has nothing to do with them or with any structural problems in American economy and society and everything to do with poor folks’ inherent vices.
Vance himself is a Republican who recently worked for Mithril Capital, the venture capitalist firm founded by billionaire Trump-backer Peter Thiel, whom Vance has described as “super thoughtful and incredibly nice.”
For the record, between them Close and Adams have 13 Academy Award nominations but zeros wins, so if you’re looking to make some money in the spring, I strongly suggest betting on one of them to take home a statuette. If your conscience allows, that is.