Ron Howard defends Hillbilly Elegy against critics slamming 'political thematics'
Ron Howard is putting a Mamaw-strong foot down in defense of his new movie.
During an interview with CBS This Morning on Monday, the Hillbilly Elegy director addressed ongoing criticism of the Glenn Close- and Amy Adams-starring Netflix film, suggesting that it's tied to the political beliefs of the story's real-life inspiration, author and venture capitalist J.D. Vance.
"I do feel like they're looking at political thematics that they may or may not agree with, that honestly aren't really reflected or aren't front-and-center in this story," the Oscar-winning filmmaker, 66, said in response to a question about flak the film has received after its source material — Vance's memoir of the same name — gained popularity during the 2016 election as a glimpse into the low-income white demographic that largely supported Donald Trump. "What I saw was a family drama that could be very relatable. Yes, culturally specific, and if you're fascinated by that, I hope you find it interesting. If you're from the region, I hope you find it authentic, because that was our aim and effort. But I felt it was a bridge to understanding that we're more alike than we are different."
The film follows Vance (played by Gabriel Basso and Owen Asztalos) and his close relatives — including his grandmother Mamaw (Close) and mother, Bev (Adams) — as they navigate drug addiction, familial tension, and poverty during his childhood, before he received a degree from Yale.
Vance joined Howard for the discussion, and speculated that "a lot of people attach a specific political significance" to the film, despite no concrete plot points revolving around substantial political issues. He went on to cite the film's portrait of drug addiction ravaging poor Appalachian regions as a timeless issue that comes through stronger than any of the film's political signals.
"I felt that there was an interesting, contemporary story here: a truthful family drama," Howard said. "I was drawn to that. I also felt it was an interesting emotional rescue and survival story that really celebrated the women in [Vance's] life."
"Talking with the real J.D. was crucial. I asked how she sat, how she held her cigarette, what her voice was like, what her house looked like — all of that, plus pictures and video that we got, gave me a sense of who she was," Close previously told EW of researching for the part. "No matter how fierce she could be, they sensed that underneath, she was a damaged person herself, but she had this great energy about her in a non-compromising way."
Hillbilly Elegy is now streaming on Netflix.