Hillbilly Elegy is a 2020 American drama film directed by Ron Howard, from a screenplay by Vanessa Taylor, based on the 2016 memoir of the same name by J. D. Vance. The film stars Amy Adams, Glenn Close, Gabriel Basso, Haley Bennett, Freida Pinto, Bo Hopkins, and Owen Asztalos, and follows a Yale law student who must return to his family in Ohio after a family emergency.
The film opens in Jackson, Kentucky, in 1997. J. D. is looking back to this time, his teenage years. He is visiting his family with his grandparents and Mom, Bev. They go back home to Ohio.
Fourteen years later, J. D. is attending Yale and working three jobs. He is dating a young woman, Usha. She has a summer internship in Washington D.C. and J. D. hopes to get one there as well. He attends an event to network in hopes of landing the internship. He gets a call from his sister, Lindsay because his mom is in the hospital after overdosing on heroin. Lindsay is overwhelmed by the situation as she works and has three children. She asks J. D. to come home, which he feels conflicted about as it is interview week at Yale.
He remembers growing up and conflicts he had with his mom, who is mentally and emotionally unstable. He was a fan of Joe Montana and collected his cards. As they are driving, his mom tells him she wants to move them in with her boyfriend. Bev starts driving like she wants to get in a wreck and then beats J. D. He runs out of the car to a house and calls the police who come and arrest Bev.
Back in 2011, J. D. starts to drive to Ohio. In 1997, his grandparents come to pick him up as J. D. lies to the police about his mom hitting him and they let her go. In 2011, he arrives at the hospital as his mom is yelling at the nurse. She will be discharged because she has no health insurance. J. D. is called and offered an interview for the following morning.
In 1997, his grandfather dies and the family has a funeral. Bev works as a nurse and steals drugs. She gets high, acts erratic, gets fired, and later breaks down over her father’s death. In 2011, J. D. and Lindsey find Bev a bed at a drug rehabilitation facility and J. D. remembers how it’s never worked for her in the past. J. D. pays for her rehab, but Bev ultimately refuses to be admitted.
In 1997, J. D., Lindsey, and Bev move into her boss’s and new husband, Ken’s house. Bev won’t quit taking drugs. J. D.’s grandmother falls and is hospitalized with pneumonia. He starts vandalizing and acting out with his new step-brother, Travis and his friends. They wreck a car. In 2011, Bev’s boyfriend throws her stuff out of his apartment. In 1997 J. D.’s grandmother takes him to live with her and helps him to avoid trouble and succeed in school.
He grows up, joins the Marines, goes home when his grandmother dies, and uses the G.I. Bill to go to college. In 2011, J. D. gets his mom a motel room and some food and drives back to Yale for his interview.
Gabriel Basso as J. D. Vance, Bev’s son and Mamaw’s grandson.
Owen Asztalos as young J. D.
Amy Adams as Beverly “Bev” Vance, J. D.’s mother and Mamaw’s daughter.
Tierney Smith as young Bev
Glenn Close as Bonnie “Mamaw” Vance, J. D.’s grandmother and Bev’s mother.
Sunny Mabrey as young Bonnie
Haley Bennett as Lindsay Vance, J. D.’s sister, Mamaw’s granddaughter and Bev’s daughter.
Freida Pinto as Usha
Bo Hopkins as Papaw Vance
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