For many viewers, Netflix’s Hillbilly Elegy will need no introduction. It was only four years ago that J.D. Vance’s memoir, which follows his coming-of-age in a poor Appalachian family, was being touted as the key to understanding Trump voters during a particularly shocking election. And while the book has received its share of criticism and controversy, it was, for a time, emblematic of a certain conversation around race, class, and politics in America.
But the new movie adaptation, directed by Ron Howard, doesn’t really try to do all that. Instead, it narrows its focus to this one specific guy and his personal problems, with little effort to tie his story to the culture that raised him. That approach may be less likely to inspire scoffs and eye-rolls and heated thinkpieces from those skeptical of Vance’s analysis of the white working class. Without that social commentary, though, Hillbilly Elegy becomes just another