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From Hillbilly Elegy (2020), dir. Ron Howard (image courtesy Netflix)

In 2016 Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance’s memoir of growing up in rural Ohio, became a bestseller in no small part due to the idea that it could “explain” the average Trump voter to liberals who were confused and frightened by his political rise. Now we don’t have time to unpack all the assumptions there (*cough* Trump’s base is in fact just the Republican Party, which skews very strongly middle and upper class *cough*), but it makes all too much sense for that book to become the most Oscar-baiting movie of this year. Hollywood actors, after all, love nothing more than demonstrating their authenticity and skill by playacting at poverty.

And so Hillbilly Elegy the movie has Amy Adams and Glenn Close putting on some of the most extra performances of the year. Amy Adams plays Vance’s drug-addicted mother, while Glenn Close is his tough-love-homespun-wisdom-dispensing grandmother. If this were a parody of condescending poverty porn films, I’m not wholly sure what it would do differently; every performance is keyed to the most hysterical, ridiculous register. If you badly want to understand Appalachians, maybe just talk to a few instead?

Hillbilly Elegy is now available to stream on Netflix.

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Dan Schindel

Dan Schindel is Associate Editor for Documentary at Hyperallergic. He lives and works in New York.