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 poor family in Ohio after a family emergency.
[preacher on radio] It is the year of our Lord 1997, an age of prosperity.
The magnificence of God’s creation, the bounty of this Earth, the miracle of modern life have never been so resplendent to our eyes.
Yet for some of us, the American dream, the singular hope of our people, remains ever out of reach.
[man 1] Amen! That’s right, Preacher!
[man 2] Yes, sir!
[preacher] And though we may feel embittered, want to rail at injustice, even in our God…
And though others may scorn our beliefs,
let us hold faith not only in that God, but in ourselves and our character.
[woman 1] Yes! Amen!
[man 3] Amen!
[preacher] Our ability to rise, yea, to fly, be this flight generations in the making, be it delayed so long our faith is bound.
Let that faith never be broken.
[woman 2] Yes, Father God!
[preacher] At a time when families across the world are falling apart…
[Papaw] Where are you going, J.D.?
[J.D.] Swim hole!
[Papaw] Don’t get bit by a cottonmouth.
[J.D.] When people ask where I’m from, I say Ohio ’cause that’s where I lived most of my life, but that’s only part of my story.
Ask me where I feel most at home, that’s the hill country, Jackson, Kentucky.
Down those hollers is where I spent every summer.
Hands down the best part of my childhood.
It’s where my people come from.
What you got there?
It’s a, uh… it’s a turtle. See?
Shell’s cracked. Pull it off.
It can’t live without his shell. Ribcage is fused to the carapace.
Chuck it. See how far you can throw it.
[J.D.] No. No, they can heal, okay?
[Bev] Why isn’t anybody packed?
[Lindsay] I am.
I told Kevin we’d be home by 1:00.
Hey, old woman. You packed?
What’s your rush, Bev? Got a hot date?
Yeah, with not being bored off my ass. Next time I’ll bring Chip.
No, you ain’t. We don’t need that drama here.
Just get your stuff!
Perch and swivel. I’ll go when I’m ready.
Real nice, Mom.
[Uncle Pet] Fire in the hole!
Where’s your brother at?
He rode off.
You couldn’t keep an eye on him for two seconds?
[boy 1] Yeah, get him!
[boy 2] Hey! He’s coming up!
[Dane] Go back to Ohio, boy!
[boy 1] Keep him under!
[Dane] Get outta here.
[J.D.] Things could get tough down in Jackson in a heartbeat, but Mamaw and Papaw taught me that you never start a fight.
But if someone starts one with you, make damn sure you end it.
[Dane] Crawl on back to your mama, pussy. Tell her I’ll be over tonight.
[boy 2] Aw, here he comes!
[boy 1] Yeah, Dane! Punk!
[J.D.] If you can’t end it, your people will always have your back.
Get off him!
[J.D.] And that was our code, and to me, our code was everything.
Get off him!
What the hell you think you’re doing?
You son of a bitch.
I oughta put my foot up your ass so far, you gonna have hemorrhoids for ten years.
You Hugh McCall’s boy?
Eat shit, old man.
[boy 2] Ooh!
Get your ass outta here before I call your pa.
[Uncle Arch] Come on, J.D.
What happened to you?
[Papaw] Well, he tried to get hisself into a fight.
Of all the lamebrain ways to get out of going home…
Who did that? I’ll kill him.
Mom, come on.
I’ll kill him. Give me a name. C’mon.
Hugh McCall’s boy and a couple other little assholes.
That McCall boy had an idea, it’d die of loneliness.
Will you get him some ice?
Did you tell them dickhead bastards the three of them ain’t worth one Vance?
[Bev] Of course he did!
[Bev] All right.
It’ll be all right.
Are you all right?
I’m all right, Mom.
Are you sure?
[chuckles] Get your things!
Whoo! And dry off! I ain’t sitting next to that for three hours!
[all continue laughing]
[man] You know you gonna be starving in 45 minutes anyway.
Let’s get the family picture ‘fore we go. Bev, get over here.
God forbid, we get on the road before noon.
[Lori] Where are we gonna do it?
Over there. Lori, stand by your sister.
I want the sisters together. Everybody, look at the camera. C’mon.
C’mon, let’s go.
I’ve had about all the Kentucky I can take.
[Lori] Bye, Daddy. Love you!
[Mamaw] See you soon.
Why can’t we stay longer? We’re always the first ones to leave.
I don’t get why you ever left Jackson.
‘Cause when you’re knocked up at 13, you get the hell out of Dodge. That’s why.
[J.D.] When I was a kid, I couldn’t make sense of it.
Imagining Mamaw at almost my same age just running, pregnant, from everything she knew, every scrap of family she had.
I felt like I’d stumbled onto something. A puzzle piece, an answer to a question
I had barely begun to ask about our family and what became of us.
Oh, thank God. Back to civilization.
[Lindsay] Kevin’s here. [squeals]
J.D., get my stuff.
I wouldn’t call Middletown civilization.
Kevin! Hi! [giggles]
[Mamaw chuckling] Hey! Aw, now, there’s my little buddy.
Bev, give me some of them ribs.
His no-good mother behind the curtains.
Wouldn’t spit on her ass if her guts were on fire.
[chuckles] Here ya go, little buddy. Here.
All right. You take that home.
[chuckles] You’re welcome. All right.
[Lindsay giggles] Let’s go!
I’m gonna head on down to my place. See ya tomorrow.
[J.D.] Goodnight, Mamaw.
Good night, daughter.
[Bev] Night, Dad. See ya tomorrow.
[J.D.] Whatever better life my grandparents had chased up Route 23, they never caught it.
We were all different in Middletown somehow.
I don’t know, like something was missing.
You couldn’t get to Yale on Route 23, but I’d come closer than any of ’em to that dream of something better.
I could see it right there in front of me.
But a part of me knew the road from here to there is rocky.
[J.D.] There’s no way around but through.
[softly] What? Put it away.
No, I have to study.
Usha, you have to eat.
They’ll boot me if they see food in here.
I’ll cover for you. Come on.
[J.D.] Stop! They’re coming!
Put it away! They know! They’re coming!
They’re gonna take you to the dungeons, Usha, the famous Yale dungeons! [laughs]
[laughing] You jerk! Stop! Do you want some?
No, I have a dinner tonight.
You’re gonna do great.
Are you nervous? What’s going on?
I’m going to shine up against the triple Ivy League types.
If you’re desperate, talk about the Hatfield-McCoy thing.
I never should have told you that.
This is ridiculous.
Hey. You’re gonna get this, okay?
I have to ’cause I’m not letting you go to D.C. without me.
I don’t want to be there without you.
I have a meeting.
But I love you.
I love you.
I love you back.
[Jill] Hey, J.D., good to see you.
So you got your aid package for next year?
Yeah, I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that.
I know. It’s not as much as the first year.
Jill, I’m working three jobs. I still can’t afford $21,000.
How’s firm week going?
It’s going. I got a callback, a dinner tonight, interviews tomorrow–
The standard salary for a summer associate is well over $30,000.
If I get the job. What if I don’t?
I’m looking for a contingency plan.
Is there one?
I’d do more for you if I could.
You’re gonna get one of these jobs, J.D.
I’m sure of it.
[J.D.] I would definitely consider a clerkship, but I could also see myself going the firm route, as well.
Makes perfect sense. Keep your options open.
Let’s introduce you around.
Perfect. There’s actually someone I was hoping to meet.
Holly! You made it!
Brooks! Yes, I did.
[man] As an editor at the Journal, I had the opportunity to meet with all the top firms, so I would consider something…
Call me Tuesday.
Care for wine, sir?
Have some. They’re serving the good stuff.
Red or white?
White is fine.
Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc?
Try the Chardonnay.
You were saying…
[cell phone vibrates]
Yes, I– Sorry.
Um, so, my girlfriend has a summer position in D.C., and I was hoping to talk to Phillip Roseman because his firm–
There he is right there.
Tall guy with the glasses.
Remind me. Where did you go for undergrad?
Right. Plenty of great state schools.
[Phillip] …corporate lawyer father upset about that?
[man] Oh, of course. We all have our share of that, too.
So litigation, pretty big transition.
Is this seat taken?
Uh, J.D. Vance. Thanks.
That’s the thing to do. That’s what I did my first summer.
…cutthroat nature of it all. I wanted to focus on the laws. [laughs]
You on the Journal?
No, I didn’t get in this time.
I’m gonna try again, though.
Lot of firms won’t touch you without it.
Yes, sir. That’s what I’ve heard.
Will you excuse me? I’m sorry.
[cell phone vibrates]
Why are there so many fuckin’ forks?
Usha, what am I supposed to do with all these forks?
They had two different kinds of white wine. It’s like a test.
[Usha] It is a test.
Next time just say you’ll have whatever’s driest.
[J.D.] Driest, okay.
Listen, use the silverware from the outside in.
If the knife has a funny edge, it’s for fish.
If the spoon’s too big, it’s for soup, and the spoon at the top, that’s for dessert.
Try this: put your first finger and your thumb together on each hand.
[Usha] Do it. Just do it.
You have “D” for drink on the right and “B” for bread on the left.
Now put your hands up to your eyes.
Oh, my God. You actually did it?
[chuckling] Oh, my God.
Oh, my God. I’m such an idiot. Why are you with me?
Well, because you’re not a douchebag and you don’t know how to use forks.
You got a callback at the best firm. Are you registering that?
It’s just a dinner, right?
Just a dinner, piece of cake. Thank you, spirit guide.
Ah, don’t mention it. Okay, bye.
[cell phone vibrates]
Jesus, Linds. What is it? I’m at a dinner interview thing.
[Lindsay] It’s Mom.
She’s in the hospital.
Well, is she okay? What happened?
She started using again.
I can’t do this right now.
“‘Class, this is a tadpole,’ said Mr. Shepherd.”
What do you think a tadpole becomes?
[Bev] A frog!
J.D., go long! It’s for you!
[Bev] That’s my boy! [laughs]
Did I do something?
[Brett] I told her the only progeny I want are billable hours.
[Rich] That’s good.
You all right?
Yes, sir. I’m fine. Thank you.
Did you meet Rich and Pamela?
Great to meet you, J.D.
Good to meet you, sir.
[Rich] Brett was just telling us about his remarkable transformation from Harvard Business School grad to Yale law student.
So… what’s your story?
Well, I’m from Ohio, but my family is from Kentucky.
I joined the Marines out of high school, served in Iraq.
It was a great experience.
It helped pay for college.
It’s the American dream.
Then I finished up and got my degree in two years.
So your family, were they, uh, coal miners?
No, actually, my grandfather went north to work at a steel plant like a lot of folks from Appalachia did.
They were actually sort of hillbilly royalty because my Papaw was related to the guy who started the Hatfield-McCoy feud.
I just saw that miniseries.
What’s it like when you go back?
I don’t really get a lot of chances to go back.
It must feel like you’re from another planet.
Yeah, uh, you know, I guess.
Like, you know, “Who are all these rednecks?” [laughs]
We don’t really use that term.
Oh, no. Yeah, that’s not at all what…
It’s just, you know, I mean, you’re at a top educational institutions in the world–
My mother was salutatorian of her high school.
Smartest person I’ve met, probably smarter than anyone in this room.
Well, I didn’t mean any disrespect.
Looks like you failed on that one.
It sounds like we should be offering your mother a position.
How’d it get so bad? You had to have known.
[Lindsay] I can’t be with her every minute.
I’ve got my own shit.
Kevin’s Bronco keeps breaking down, and now he’s working nights and I’m the one that’s got to get it fixed.
And this dirtbag Mom’s been screwing, Ray, is a junkie.
And with Aunt Lori gone, it’s all on me.
[girl] No, he did not!
[shouting] Guys, I am trying to talk to your uncle! Stop it!
Sorry for yelling.
I’m sorry I haven’t been there, Lindsay.
Can you come now?
I can’t. It’s Interview Week and if I’m not here, I just–
Can’t you come home?
[“I Wanna Dance with Somebody” playing]
Why do we do this every year?
‘Cause it’s what we do. That’s why.
Couldn’t we hide the old ones?
At Christmas, I can rewrap your presents and put it under a fake tree.
Would you like that?
[Bev] Can you turn down your show? I can’t hear Whitney.
She sounds better that way.
Come on. Mom, I’m watching Gore.
[Bev] You made this one when you were five.
I was ten.
Whatever. It’s a memory and I’m gonna have it when I’m old.
I just have to–
I don’t care if it’s the baby Jesus.
It’s Easter, God damn it. Get your ass in here.
[Lindsay] I gotta go.
[Bev] “It’s Kevin.”
It’s always Kevin.
What do you want me to do?
Blow an egg or help out with Mamaw’s basket. Git!
What do I even put on it?
Be creative. What will she like?
She likes flowers. Make one out of this.
[knocking on door]
[Chip] Hey-hey! Hope someone’s home.
I hope that’s Chip. He got something for you two.
Come in! Come on.
What do you think, J.D.?
[Bev] Don’t just sit there. It’s yours!
[J.D.] What do we name him? This is great.
Jesus. How big is that thing gonna get?
He was the best one.
What do you say?
What do you say?
Take him outside.
[J.D.] He’s good-looking.
Look at his paws.
Take him outside. -[Lindsay] Come here.
[J.D.] I got him!
Get him before he pisses!
[J.D.] Come here.
He is sniffing around–
He’s going in my room!
Get him before he ruins my rug!
Bad dog. You are a bad dog!
He does that again, I’ll fucking kill him!
You’re the one that wanted a dog!
He just pisses wherever the hell he wants.
Should fit in just fine around here. [laughs]
You take him outside. [sniffles] I’ll pick up the piss.
[J.D.] I can take him.
Here’s the leash. Give me that, okay?
I can take him! Okay, but be careful.
[dog barking] [J.D. grunting]
[J.D.] I got him! [Lindsay] Get it!
[J.D.] I didn’t mean–
How many times have I told you not to be so fucking careless?
“I’m sorry.” Go to your room!
C’mon, babe. They’re just eggs.`
Oh, fuck you. Those are heirlooms. My family heirlooms.
[Bev grunts and sniffles]
Who’s that? One of them chatterboxes in a haunted house? [chuckles]
How long are you gonna be mad at me, huh?
[man screams] ‘Cause I don’t have the money!
Why didn’t you tell me? Wasn’t it important?
No, you stupid bitch!
[woman] Oh, I’m the stupid bitch?
[woman] I could pay the bills!
Never gets old.
[woman] Come back here!
[car starts and drives away]
Look, I’m sorry.
Sometimes I just fuck up, but…
Wanna go to your favorite store?
Get some football cards…
‘Cause I’m gonna go with or without you right now.
Then it’ll be me standing there staring at all those cute men in tight pants.
Come on. [laughs]
All right. Okay. [chuckles]
See ya next time.
[man] Thanks, Steve.
[rock music playing on stereo]
Who you got?
[Bev] You need to find a new favorite. Joe Montana’s not playing anymore.
He’s a four-time Super Bowl champion, three-time MVP,
All-Pro First Team three times and 117 career wins.
You sound like an automaton.
40,551 career passing yards.
How’d you get so smart?
Who do you think it came from?
Me! It’s true.
You remember that.
Whatever you say.
Joe Montana has all of that.
But who has the best touchdown dance, huh?
Mom! Mom, stop! -That’s how it goes, right?
No! Not at all. It’s like this.
Hey, pick those up.
You shouldn’t be dancing in the store.
[mockingly] “Don’t dance in the store.”
Pick those up now!
He’s doing it!
Just… get out!
He hasn’t bought his cards!
Fine! Come on, J.D.
[“Bound for the Floor” playing]
Take it. Hide it.
[Bev laughing] Go get in the car! Come on!
Chip would’ve lost his shit if he’d been there.
[laughs] I might not even tell him.
Of course I’ll tell him. It’s too good. Come on.
You like Chip, right?
Yeah, he’s okay. He just… He talks about police all the time.
Well, he’s a cop.
Yeah, but he could still talk about other stuff, I guess.
We’ve been talking about moving in… to Chip’s house, all of us.
You’d have your own room, and he’s got a ping-pong table.
That’d be good, right?
[sighs] I don’t know.
We’d just move out again. And then we’d have to find a new place.
It’s kinda what always happens.
You know, Chris, he calls him your flavor of the month. [chuckles]
He’s met a few of your boyfriends–
You let that little shit talk about your mom like that?
I don’t let him! He just said it.
After everything that I do for you?
You think I’d give these losers the time of day?
What do you think I do it for?
So you and Lindsay will have everything I never had.
You have no clue.
I was second in my whole class, out of 400 people. Did you know that?
I coulda done whatever I wanted, but I didn’t have somebody taking me to the library and telling me I could go to college, and gonna help me pay for it.
I could crash.
I could crash this car and I could kill us.
Then you would know how lucky you are!
Stop the car please!
J.D., get back in your goddamn seat!
Quit your crying! You really think I was gonna kill us?
Chris is right! You’re a bitch!
Is that what you think of your mother?
[J.D.] You’re a loser!
Just look at yourself, you little fat ass!
Yeah? You think you can say that to me?
Let go of me, Mom!
Get back here!
[Bev] God damn it!
J.D., you get back here!
God damn it!
[J.D.] Help me! Please! Please!
[woman] What’s going on?
Please, my mom is trying to kill me!
[Bev] God damn it.
You get out here!
Get inside quickly.
[Bev] J.D.! You get out here now!
I got dogs, they bite!
[Bev] I wasn’t talking to you! You get fucking out here!
[woman] I ain’t opening the door!
Hello? Mamaw, come get me! I’m at–
11345 County Road!
[J.D.] 11345 County Road.
Let me in!
I ain’t opening the door!
Mom’s losing it! Bring Papaw!
Open the door!
You were trying to kill him!
Let me the fuck in!
Are you kidding me?
[Bev] Get your ass out to the car!
11345 County Road! Hurry, come here now!
I’m gonna call Children’s Services!
Go ahead and fucking do that.
Get on your fucking feet!
Get in the fucking car! Come on!
Thank God you’re here!
Did you call them, you bitch, huh?
[woman] She barged in!
This is a family matter.
[officer] Let the boy go!
I didn’t do anything. He’s a brat.
Take your hands off of the boy!
Are you kidding me right now? [laughs]
Come on, son.
[error message chimes]
Are you kidding me?
Can y’all do something about this Wi-Fi? It’s shit.
Nah, man, it comes and it goes.
[cell phone vibrating]
God. Hey, babe.
I thought you were coming over after your dinner.
Yeah, uh, sorry about that. I sort of got sidetracked.
[Usha] So, how was it?
[J.D.] Uh… [sighs]
I don’t know. I think I fucked it up pretty good.
[scoffs] Come on, J.D.
I sort of lost it on one of the partners.
He deserved it, but I’m guessing that isn’t what gets you a final interview.
Yeah, I’m here.
[J.D.] Somewhere in New Jersey, I think.
But… don’t you have interviews tomorrow?
My mom’s in the hospital.
Oh, my God. What happened? Is she okay?
She’s using again.
Oh, my God, I’m so sorry, J.D.
Yeah, I just… I gotta get back there.
Hey, um, do you want me to fly out?
I can look up a flight right now.
Usha, thank you, but you don’t have to do that.
Maybe you could ask a professor to reach out for you.
Ask for another chance.
What are they gonna say?
“He tanked his interview, but he’s from a fucked up family.”
“Let’s give him another chance.”
Hey. Sorry, man. Your card declined.
Really? Sorry… Um…
Sorry, Usha. Can I call you back?
Call me when you get there.
This one should work. Sorry.
Listen, it’s all going to be okay, J.D.
Just… just drive safe.
[indistinct police radio chatter]
[Mamaw] Where’s my grandson?
What’s he doing in a cop car like a goddamn criminal?
[officer] We’re making sure he’s safe.
Well, we’re here, ain’t we? Get him out of there.
I’ll let him out. Everybody stay calm.
Come here. You’re all right, J.D. You’re all right.
[Bev] I didn’t do anything!
Let her go!
Let my mom go!
Son, let me explain how this’ll work.
No! Nothing happened!
Listen to me!
Listen to me.
This might be normal in your family, but it’s not right.
Your mom’s gonna need some help.
Now, we can get it for her if you tell us what happened.
Son, did she hit you?
She didn’t do anything.
I was just being stupid.
[officer] All right.
Take ’em off. Nobody’s gonna press charges.
It’s gonna be all right. You’re a good boy, J.D.
[Papaw exhales heavily]
You did good to call us, son. You did good.
Are you okay now?
[on car radio] ♪ WGGC ♪
[Scott] All right, folks! It’s 8:15 a.m. here at WGGC.
You’re with Trish and Scott.
We are broadcasting live all day from Middletown Skateway with giveaways.
That’s right, Scott!
93.8’s got the hookup for you.
Twenty-five people are gonna go home with free T-shirts…
[Scott] We have not one but two free tickets to see Brad Paisley…
Excuse me, ma’am.
Can you please tell me where–
[Bev] Don’t tell me the rule!
What rule tells you you gotta kick someone out after they almost died?
[nurse] As I have explained, it is a 24-hour policy.
I worked at this hospital before you had zits.
[nurse] Lower your voice. We have other patients here.
[Bev] There’s a news flash. We’re in a hospital. She’s a genius.
We are not asking for more than a week.
She’s stable. Her vitals are normal.
Excuse me. I’m her son.
Guys, what’s going on?
They’re trying to kick Mom out, that’s what’s goin’ on.
Your mother’s stable, ready for discharge.
My ass. I’m clammy, I have a fever.
[Lindsay] Look at her!
[J.D.] Where are you sending her?
Wherever you want.
Is there a facility that you set up for patients?
There are several private options in the area.
I can have the discharge planner come speak with you.
[J.D.] That would be great.
We need help to figure out what insurance will cover and what we gotta do.
Your mother doesn’t have insurance.
I let it lapse.
When I worked here, we didn’t turf patients because they couldn’t pay.
Ma’am, this is the hospital’s policy.
Call Terry Cleary–
He hasn’t worked here in over ten years.
Okay, well, call somebody who knows something!
Can you call in the attending, please?
Great. Thank you.
[J.D.] Thank you.
She is good for something.
[nurse] Dr. Newton?
Morning. How are we all today?
We’d be a lot better if we could figure something fuckin’ out–
Can we talk out in the hallway, please?
[J.D.] Thank you.
[Bev] Go out in the hall like I can’t hear a fucking conversation with my doctor!
I’m, uh, J.D., Beverly’s son, and I’m sorry about all that, okay?
I just got into town. I’m gonna find her a program.
I only need a place for one night.
Unfortunately, we don’t have the beds.
The best you’ll do is a Suboxone prescription for her to take home.
She doesn’t… I don’t know where she’s going to go.
You know she worked at this hospital for years, right?
This is probably where this shit started with the pain pills and the bullshit.
I wish I could help you.
You have until 3:00 today. It’s the best I can do.
I got us until 3:00.
That’s what your law school negotiating could get us, till 3:00.
Oh, let’s hear it for Yale.
See you later, Mom. I’ll be back to get you.
How’s that fancy school anyway?
It’s fine, Mom.
Linds says you got a girlfriend.
What’s her name?
I’ll be back to pick you up at 3:00, okay?
Shit. I’m late now.
One of the moms from Meghan’s soccer team dumped this party on me last-minute.
[cell phone vibrating]
We’ve got, like, five paper napkins and a half a pack of hot dogs.
Sorry about this, Linds. Hello.
[woman] J.D. Vance?
I’m calling from Phillip Roseman’s office at Glaston Hamburg.
We’d like to invite you to a final interview tomorrow at 10:00 a.m.
Uh, that’s amazing. [chuckles] Thank you so much. That’s so great.
But 10:00 a.m. tomorrow…
Is there another time Mr. Roseman can meet me?
I’m a ten-hour drive away from New Haven.
[woman] I’m afraid not.
Mr. Roseman’s only in New Haven for one more day.
Okay, 10:00 a.m. tomorrow. Uh, thank you. Bye.
My final interview’s tomorrow. It’s the only one I got.
I gotta be there.
Yeah, just about a day too long. Heroin, Lindsay? Jesus.
When did she go off a cliff?
[J.D. banging on door] Papaw!
[Bev] Do you hear anything?
[Mamaw] I can see him!
I see him!
He got the TV on too loud. I’m breaking it.
I’m breaking it.
[J.D.] Just move!
[Bev banging on door] J.D.! Unlock the door!
Oh, my God. Call an ambulance.
It’s too late.
How do you know?
‘Cause I’m a nurse, Mom. I know. He’s dead.
[Bev] No, it’s not an emergency. We just need a coroner.
Yeah, I’m sure.
[somber fiddle music playing]
Why do they do that, Mamaw?
‘Cause we’re hill people, honey. We respect our dead.
[J.D.] I didn’t know till after he was gone how Papaw had protected my mom from the world.
Now the only person who ever got her was gone.
Whatever dreams she or any of us had… they all just seemed that much further away.
Hey, you all right, babe?
[Bev] Matt, I’m fine.
[Mamaw continues sobbing]
[woman] Is this going to hurt?
[Bev] I already did it.
I give you the special treatment, Janice. You know that.
That other one sure don’t.
[laughs] Kit? She’s new, she’ll learn.
Can I get you anything else?
No, I’m good.
[Bev] All right. Here.
[woman] Thank you.
You’re back. How was the funeral?
Oh, you know, same old family bullshit.
Oh, my God, are those yours?
Mm. I go after work. The parking lot is perfect for it.
Oh, my God, I used to…
Can I try ’em? What size are they?
[Katrina] Um, they’re a seven.
[Katrina] Do they fit?
Like a glove.
I used to love these. You know, the roller rink.
Yeah, and go on dates?
[chuckles] Oh, I was so hot.
I went dancing and everything. Can I try them out?
Where’re you gonna go?
♪ Hot summer streets And the pavements are burning ♪
♪ I sit around ♪
♪ It’s too hot to handle So I got to get up and go… ♪
Whoa, whoa, whoa. Hey!
Whoa, whoa, whoa. [laughing]
Somebody call security!
So what did they do?
They fired my ass. What do you think they did?
[Bev] I was sick of that place anyway.
Gainful employment was cramping her style.
[Bev] I will get another job.
You could lose your fucking license.
What are you doing?
[Bev] I got a headache. I need a–
[Mamaw] You can’t have a goddamn hissy every time you have an off day.
You gotta think about these kids.
What do you think I’ve been thinking about since I was 18 years old, huh?
Never had a life where I wasn’t thinking about the kids.
It’s all about us.
[Mamaw] So what are you gonna do?
Figure something out.
Great plan, Mom.
It isn’t easy, all right? Just wait till you get pregnant.
I’m not having a kid.
You think you’re special? That’s what happens to girls.
Only girls that are stupid.
[Bev] You wanna call me stupid?
[Lindsay] I’m going to Kevin’s!
[Bev] It’s easy when someone else is paying the bills!
[Lindsay] I’m smarter than you!
[Bev] You gotta respect your mother!
Can I put on Meet the Press? There’s a special about Monica Lewinsky.
[sniffles] I don’t want to hear any more of that filth.
What’s the name of this game?
Son of a bitch!
[chuckles] Watch your mouth. Gin.
I never win.
Well, if you don’t like it, find some lame-ass loser to play with.
[Mamaw] Oh, my God.
You are the worst fucking card player I ever met.
Hasta la vista, baby.
Hasta la vista, baby.
[gunshot on TV]
How many times you’ve seen this movie?
Oh, about a hundred.
Why do you keep watching it?
Like it, I figure.
Everyone in this world is one of three kinds: a good Terminator, a bad Terminator, and neutral.
You’re a good Terminator.
Well, wasn’t always. I had to learn.
You could be, too, if you don’t fuck it up.
You’re like me.
Is Mom like you?
She and Papaw were more the same.
He was a good Terminator.
[sighs] At times, he could be the bad one.
Why do you think he was living down the street there?
How was he bad?
He let things get to him, make him feel small.
Could I be bad?
[people shouting outside]
Ugh. One of them crazies down the street.
[ambulance siren wailing]
[Mamaw] It’s always something.
[door opens, closes]
[Lindsay] Somebody get help!
[man 1] We need help! Someone call 911!
What about me? Huh? Anybody?
[man 2] Ma’am, get out of the road!
You won’t help me!
[Lindsay] Please help her!
Help me! Can anyone help me?
[Matt] Calm down! Bev!
[Lindsay] You’re just upset–
You’re just upset! We all miss him!
Stop acting like he was your dad! He was my dad!
You little bitch!
[Bev] He’s my dad!
Stop it, Bev! Stop it!
[sobbing] Mom, please…
[officer 1] Stand back! Calm down, we just need you to breathe.
He’s my dad!
[J.D. continues breathing rapidly]
[Bev screaming] No! No! No!
Don’t look at that! Come on! Don’t you look at…
You look at me!
You look at me! All right?
Lindsay, honey! Come back down to my house!
[officer 2] You need to calm down.
[officer 1] Calm down!
[Lindsay] Help her!
[Bev continues wailing]
Yes, I’m looking for a bed for my mother.
No, she doesn’t have insurance. But, um…
No? Okay. Thanks.
[“Don’t Stop” playing on stereo]
[J.D.] Please don’t put me on hold.
Oh, my God. Is that a fried baloney sandwich?
[laughing]Come on, Linds. Seriously. I need this.
Give me the damn sandwich.
I saved you the last slice.
I figured they don’t have that at Yale.
I think this might be outlawed at Yale. My God.
I miss this.
[Louis] Hey! [laughs]
There they are. Oh, look at you, huh?
Keep it down! He’s talking to Yale! Ooh!
I ain’t seen you since your Mamaw’s funeral.
[J.D.] Been that long?
Was she a holy terror.
You got the beer.
Yes, I do.
[Lindsay] Did you get the buns?
Well, enjoy your bunless dogs then.
So what are you doing here, man?
Taking care of my mother, dealing with all that.
[Louis] I was there when Lindsay brought her in.
[J.D.] I was trying to find her a rehab.
Whatever you do, don’t go to Cedar Creek.
[J.D.] Why? What’s with Cedar Creek?
Cedar Creek? Food’s shit.
[Louis] My brother-in-law was there.
What’s that one…
[Louis] Got bed mites.
Get her into Fairlawn. It’s like a resort.
They don’t have beds. Plus, we can’t afford that shit.
Doesn’t your friend Sally work over at that rehab…
Call and see if they got anything open.
Can you believe someone married this guy?
Hell no. You kidding me? You blindfold her?
Yeah, I blindfolded her. That’s what I did.
I’m still on hold. It’s unbelievable.
[cell phone vibrating]
Have you even talked to her?
I just don’t want to drag her into it, you know?
You don’t think she’s in it?
[cell phone clicks]
Don’t be an asshole. Let her decide.
But Parker has taken it a step further to say judges are inherently political…
[cell phone vibrates]
…which isn’t necessarily true.
Be right back.
Did you make it home all right?
Yeah, sorry I didn’t call sooner.
I’ve just been dealing with all this stuff.
Um, is your mom okay?
It’s hard to tell, honestly, but the hospital’s kicking her out at 3:00 p.m. and, uh, we’re having a bitch of a time finding her a rehab so…
But, uh… Oh! [chuckles] Guess what?
I got a call from Glaston Hamburg.
You did? For a final interview?
Yeah, uh, with Phillip Roseman…
…tomorrow at 10:00 a.m.
That’s incredible, J.D.
Yeah, if I can make it.
Listen. Let me come.
I can stay with your mom and you come back and interview.
Usha, I appreciate it.
But you’d have no idea what you’d be walking into.
I’ve been in hospitals before, when my grandmother was sick.
It’s not the fucking flu, Usha!
Okay? My mom overdosed on heroin.
Is that the kind of problem you want?
I didn’t think so.
Look, I gotta get back and deal with all this stuff. Bye.
[Lindsay] Come here.
The guy said, “Objectivity doesn’t exist and legal interpretation is subjective.”
Exactly. What does that mean? We can’t trust the judicial system?
Cheryl thinks they might have space. Let’s go.
Talk to Sally Coates.
She said there was a spot that was spoken for, but go on down.
Thank you, Cheryl.
Yeah. You’re welcome.
Mom, where are my cleats?
Check under your bed, honey. Get me outta here.
So you’re a soccer mom.
Such a fake.
I don’t know. I think I got you out-faked by a mile.
You really think rehab…
Think it’ll do any good this time?
You miss me?
[Bev] Is Lindsay around?
Not spending all her time with Prince Charming? [chuckles]
You know how it is.
I brought you this.
Some stuff for you to do while you’re in here so you don’t get bored.
It’s got funny jokes and math problems and some Bible stuff, too.
I made it.
I love you.
When I get out of here, I’m going to make a real home for us.
You gotta help me do more cooking and all that healthy stuff, okay?
It’s gonna be different now.
[receptionist] New Beginnings. How may I direct your call?
We’re here to visit my son Victor. Victor Boyd.
Oh, of course. Please have a seat.
Hi, sir. Yes?
Hello. I’m J.D. Vance. I’m here to see Sally Coates.
[Sally] To be honest with you, I know you and Cheryl go back, I’d love to help, but there’s a procedure to getting on the wait list–
Ma’am, I understand.
Okay, but my mom’s had a really tough time since Mamaw died a few years back.
I wish I could help. It’s just–
I respect your need to follow procedure.
I know she messed up.
And she’s had a history of it, but she also has a history of being a pretty good person.
She put herself through nursing school as a single mother, and now I’m at law school.
I just… I really… Ma’am, I really think that… if my mom had somebody to believe in her…
You need to understand that I can’t leave here.
I can’t until I’ve done everything humanly possible.
All right? This is my family.
So until you drag me out of here, I’m gonna keep giving you reasons.
[man over PA] Jason Flip, please report to the Group Room.
Jason Flip, to the group room please. Thank you.
Glad I was able to help.
Thank you so much.
Okay, uh, bear with me here.
Five hundred on this one and a thousand on this one.
Sorry. Five hundred on this one and a thousand on this one.
[receptionist] We’ll authorize it now, but it won’t charge till she’s admitted.
[Lindsay] Yup. Okay.
[J.D.] That should be for the first week.
Pick me up here.
I need payment for the first two weeks to check her in.
Okay, put 500 more on this one and, uh… 1,000 on that one.
And that should be… good. Let me know if those all go through.
Sorry about this.
[receptionist] Last one.
Okay, you’re good.
Are you serious?
I am! [chuckles]
Okay, perfect. Thank you.
Amazing. I’ll come back and sign those.
I’ll let my mom know what’s going on.
Okay, uh, you’re good to go.
Once the doctor and the therapist do their assessment of you.
[J.D.] What are you talking about?
I changed my mind.
Where are you going?
I begged them to let you stay here.
Nobody asked you to.
I’m not a charity case.
Why am I here, Mom?
Feel superior maybe?
[J.D.] How can you be so fucking selfish?
You even care what you do to Lindsay?
J.D., shut up.
Leave her out of this!
You did the same thing to Mamaw.
You just took and took from her until she was practically bankrupt.
Yeah, she was a goddamn saint.
All she ever did was bail you out!
Except when it mattered!
Do you actually want to be dead? Or you just too lazy to try?
[Lindsay] J.D.! Don’t!
Oh, I tried… plenty!
[J.D.] I’m done with her.
Don’t be stupid.
We can’t leave her here. She’s got no place to go.
You keep defending her.
She was worse to you than anybody. Now she’s making you feel guilty.
Just like she did with Mamaw.
You don’t know everything, J.D.
She’s been doing this since we were kids, Lindsay. Come on.
Well, it didn’t start with her.
Mom and Aunt Lori, they had it worse than us.
It was a war in that house.
[Mamaw] Beverly, hide your sister in the closet! Go on!
[Papaw] Shut up!
[Mamaw] What kinda man are you?
You come home drunk one more time, I’m gonna light your ass on fire!
[Papaw] I’ll come home whenever I goddamn please!
[Mamaw] Get out, you drunk asshole! [groans]
Shut your mouth! See what happens!
Stop it! Get out!
You goddamn son of a bitch. You’re lying there in your own piss!
I told you what I was gonna do!
[Papaw screaming in pain]
[Mamaw] This is your own doing!
You’re no goddamn father!
[Papaw continues screaming]
I can’t defend her… but I’m trying to forgive her.
If you don’t, you’re never gonna get out of what you’re trying to get out of.
Mom, this is…
This is my girlfriend. This is Usha.
What is she?
Well, she’s really pretty.
I think you’d like her a lot.
You should bring her here.
I’ve been doing real good.
I’ve been working, trying to get my license back. I…
I just had a down… you know, month.
I got an interview tomorrow, Mom.
You sure you don’t wanna stay here?
I got you the bed.
Just take me to Ray’s.
Mom, come on.
Oh, you know me.
I always land on my feet.
Congratulate me, why don’t you? I’m a married woman.
You’re getting married?
I got married. [laughs]
Aren’t you happy for me? Hello?
Why didn’t you tell anybody?
I thought you two were gonna break up.
I didn’t marry Matt.
I married Ken.
Who the hell’s Ken?
My boss at the dialysis center.
Ugh. Kiss my ruby-red asshole. When’d all this happen?
[Bev] It’s been going on.
Anyway, it’s been over with Matt for a while.
It’s over with Matt?
Well, obviously. I married somebody else.
[pop song playing in distance]
This is a kitchen with kitchen stuff.
And… this was a kegerator when we moved in.
Yeah, I wanted to keep it, but… [chuckles]
We keep sodas there now.
Hey, I’m sorry about your dog.
You know, I can’t breathe. It’s the dander.
Hey, let me show you your room.
This is Travis.
Uh, Travis, this is J.D.
[Ken] Settle in.
[Travis] You wanna see something?
My dad smokes all the time. He doesn’t know I take it.
He keeps it in here.
Wanna get high?
What? You never smoked?
[J.D.] It’s a gateway drug.
My mom’s in recovery–
What do they do where you come from, hmm?
[Travis] Come on! It’s no big deal.
You gotta loosen up a bit, man.
[Travis] You just gotta go for it. Come on.
[J.D.] I gotta go.
Maybe next time.
I’m Joie Chen. Coming up, reaction to our interview with Iran’s new president.
[Bev] J.D., I’ve been looking for you.
I need you to piss in this.
I got a call from the nursing board. I have to give them a sample today.
Mamaw’s got 100 prescriptions in hers, so–
Why isn’t yours clean?
Just do it. Okay?
Why isn’t yours clean?
Come on now. Go do it!
[voice breaks] I know that I messed up.
I’ve been trying really hard with Ken, but it just…
It isn’t easy, and… I promise that I’m gonna do better, but I can’t lose my job.
You should’ve thought of that before.
I know. I really need this.
No! If you want clean piss, stop fucking up your life and get it from your own bladder!
What is going on down here?
She wants my piss because hers is dirty.
It’s for the nursing board!
J.D., you need to help your mama on this.
You let her get away with this every time. How is she gonna learn?
I told you I would do better.
You always say that! You’re lying!
I always try!
If you’d put your foot down years ago, she wouldn’t be like this! She wouldn’t!
You’re a shitty mom and so are you!
[Mamaw] You may be right about some of what you said.
But things haven’t exactly worked out for your mama.
We can’t let them take her license.
Why? It’s her own stupid fault.
I know this ain’t right, honey, but she’s your mother.
And maybe if we help her this one last time, she’ll finally learn her lesson and keep her job.
Why can’t we let her clean her own mess up?
‘Cause family is the only thing that means a goddamn.
You’ll learn that.
Mamaw, I wanna stay with you.
Can I stay?
Can’t do that. We’re not gonna do that to her.
But you always got me.
Now… do this for her.
[door opens, closes]
[train horn blaring]
Are you okay? Say something!
[J.D. cries] Oh, no!
Are you gonna die?
What the hell are you asking me that for?
They said you have pneumonia.
People can die from pneumonia.
Are you trying to kill me off?
I know you know.
What kind of feather-brained idea is that? Who knows they’re gonna die?
People do. Like… Native Americans.
They’re called “Indians.” Like the Cleveland Indians, and they don’t know more than other people.
They’re not magic just ’cause they don’t have microwaves.
Just tell me!
I don’t know.
Are you gonna die now?
You mean right now?
[sighs] Are you gonna come home from this hospital?
I just told you, I don’t goddamn know.
Fine. Just go ahead and die.
You might think that algebra is jail, but it’s not.
It’s freedom. Boil it down.
Balance. If it’s good on the left, it’s good on the right.
Boil it down. B-I-D.
All right, next week, quadratic equations. Bum-bum-bum.
We’ll be putting those graphing calculators to use, so, if you don’t have one, go get one.
You’re gonna need a parent’s signature on that.
You’re gonna fail if you keep this up.
I think you’re smarter than that.
[“Metal on Metal” playing]
[Travis] Do it, man!
[Doug] That’s it. Under the shirt.
Breathe in. There you go. -[Travis] Oh!
-[Doug] Stand up.
All right, one foot. One foot.
[all] One foot, one foot, one foot.
[Doug] There you go.
[Louis] Oh, shit!
[Frank] Hey, check it out.
Aren’t you gonna work, man?
[scoffs] Nah, dude. I quit.
They fired Cheyenne. Said she missed too many days or some shit.
[Frank] There you go, Pee-Wee.
It was all ’cause she was puking, mostly, but that was just the first three months.
Three months of what? [chuckles]
She’s pregnant, idiot.
[Doug] Guy’s such an asshole.
Always bitching at me to take shorter bathroom breaks.
Anyway, the guy fucked me out of a week’s pay.
Fuckin’ Trent. Not even a real name.
Get a fuckin’ name, Trent!
I was thinkin’ about going over there.
Fuck shit up.
How are we gonna get out there?
My mamaw’s car is here.
[Doug] Let’s go.
[Louis] All right!
Come on, J.D.
Come on. Let’s go.
Come on, man!
What are you waitin’ for?
Who’s Trent now, motherfucker?
Pee-Wee needs a bat. Let’s go.
Let’s go, Pee-Wee!
[Travis] Hey! [laughs]
[Doug] Now for Shelby! Fuck you!
[teen 1] Smash it!
[teen 2] All righty!
[J.D.] Are you sure he’s here?
Well, where else would he be? He hasn’t worked since 2007.
He inherited the top floor of this dump. Thinks he’s a land baron.
What the fuck, Ray?
Stay out of my house!
You’re a piece of shit!
[Ray] Take your shit, bitch!
Get down and talk to me, motherfucker!
It’s none of your goddamn business, boy!
You’re a hillbilly loser. You ain’t even got any of your teeth.
[Ray] You junkie whore!
Don’t call my mom a whore, you son of a bitch!
She is a whore! She’ll suck anybody’s dick that’s got one!
I’m gonna fucking kill you!
[Ray] I’ll beat your ass!
[J.D.] Let me in, you bastard!
What the hell? What are you doing?
Get outta here! I got kids here! Get the fuck outta here!
He’s an asshole.
Why’d he have to wreck my things?
You and your sister are the only things I ever did in my life worth shit.
I don’t know how you got so far.
I don’t know how far I’ve really gotten.
[Frank] We gotta get outta here!
[Doug] Get to the fucking car!
[Doug] Go, go, go! Go, get in the car!
[Frank] Start the fucking car, Doug!
[Louis] Come in! Just go, Doug!
[Frank] Turn, turn!
[Lindsay] He coulda been killed.
They all coulda, or he coulda gone to jail.
He needed me and I just kept leaving him there.
What he needed was his damn mother.
I just kept running off with Kevin.
Didn’t even ask him if he wanted to come.
Aw, honey, you got a right to your own life.
J.D. ain’t your responsibility.
Whose is he?
What in God’s name happened back there?
That lard-ass called the cops on me.
Why did J.D. think you was going to kill him? What’d you do to him?
Nothing. He said some shit. I got mad–
Did you hit him?
It’s not serious.
Should I have let him get hit by a car?
If he wasn’t being a little shit–
You’ve always got a reason!
It’s always someone else’s fault.
Some point, you’re gonna have to take responsibility or someone else is gonna have to…
Who, huh? Who?
What are you gonna do?
[medical equipment beeping]
Hello? What are you doing?
[Ken] What is she doing here, hon?
I don’t know.
Get your stuff.
I don’t give a rat fart what you’re smoking, kid.
If you think you’re hiding it, honey, you’re dumb as a bag of hair.
What are you doing?
[panting] I’m taking him.
[Mamaw] To live with me.
If you got a problem with that, you can talk to the barrel of my gun.
[Bev] You can’t just come in–
He’s gettin’ in trouble. He’s in trouble.
He’s a teenager.
It’s not just that.
He needs somebody to pay some fucking attention before it’s too late.
What do you think I’ve been doing, huh? I got us into this new house, good new school–
He coulda gone to jail, Beverly.
He’s got loser friends and he’s gonna be a loser if somebody don’t do something.
No, he’s not, and you can’t take him because he’s not yours.
He might as well be.
I want to go.
You want to go?
And live with her?
She’s crazy, you know that. She’s been crazy my whole life.
If you wanna live with that crazy old witch, go right ahead.
You two were made for each other.
Go on. Get your stuff.
Hey, Lindsay. Sorry to bother you at work. I’ve been calling you.
I couldn’t get ahold of you.
Mom’s not staying at Ray’s. ‘Cause she can’t.
Big surprise. Guy’s a piece of shit.
Tell me about it.
Where is she at?
She’s out by the car.
I’m trying to think of, uh… I don’t know. I was wondering if…
She can’t stay with us.
Not in the shape she’s in, not with the kids.
When you got to go?
[sighs] An hour and a half if I want to make it on time.
Take her to that motel out on Verity. She’s stayed there before.
I’ll try to get off work early and check on her.
I don’t know, Lindsay.
I could drive ten hours and not even get the job.
Or you could.
But it just doesn’t feel right.
I wouldn’t feel good leaving you to deal with this shit.
Don’t make us your excuse, J.D.
It’s just the way it is.
I’m all right.
I love you.
Nah, look at this. Three in a row.
I don’t suppose one of you deadbeats want to help me with my groceries.
Well, I guess you two are too busy eating my food.
Which one are you?
I’m Louis… Zablocki.
That’s a Polish name.
You know what’s interesting about the Poles?
They bury their dead with their asses sticking out of the ground.
That way they got a place to park their bikes.
What about you?
Is that a question?
You got a job, Frank?
Had a paper route, but… got laid off.
Which one of you can spell Mississippi?
And don’t you come back or I’ll run you over with my car.
You know I’ll by God do it.
What are you doing?
You can stay or go with them.
[J.D.] What the hell?
Those are my friends.
Not anymore. You can thank me later.
Three years from now, those idiots will be on food stamps or in jail.
Who am I supposed to talk to?
Talk to yourself. Works for me.
Your homework done?
Why the hell not?
I don’t have the right calculator.
Go get the damn thing!
What, is it made out of gold?
Do your damn dishes! This ain’t a hotel.
Not like that. You’ll break it all!
All you do is yell at me!
If you didn’t act like a shit-for-brains, I wouldn’t have to.
[“Save Tonight” playing faintly on radio]
Hey, can I help you?
No, thank you.
Okay. If you need anything, just let me know.
♪ Let’s delay our misery ♪
♪ Save tonight ♪
♪ Fight the break of dawn ♪
♪ Come tomorrow Tomorrow I’ll be gone ♪
Hey! Take it out!
Take it out now! Give it to me.
The hell do you think you’re doing?
You do that again, I’ll leave you there.
Now stop stealing things, do your fucking homework and find some decent friends.
I don’t want new friends.
Then you’re not gonna have any.
You can’t tell me that. You’re not my mom.
I’m all you got.
Now get out before I cancel your birth certificate.
Get out and get that calculator or don’t bother getting back in.
You’re damn lucky that thing ain’t busted.
If I weren’t crippled,
I’d get out of this car, walk around and smack your head and your ass together!
Why do you even want me?
Who said I wanted you?
I really hate you, you know that?
I don’t care you hate me. I ain’t in it for popularity.
You gotta take care of business, go to school, get good grades to even have a chance.
Mom was the best in her class. What’s the point?
The point is you don’t know shit.
I’m talking about a chance.
You might not make it, but you sure won’t if you don’t try.
Why do you even care what I do?
I ain’t gonna live forever.
Who’s gonna take care of this family when I’m gone?
I thought your mama was gonna be all right.
Be happy, do good.
But she got tore up around here.
She just up and quit.
She just stopped trying.
I coulda done better.
But you, you got to decide, you want to be somebody or not?
[“Tuesday’s Gone” playing on radio]
♪ Tuesday’s gone with the wind ♪
♪ My baby’s gone… ♪
[car shuts off]
It’s just till we figure everything out.
Here. Let me.
All right, Mom. I gotta get on the road.
But I’ll run across, get us something to eat.
You want anything?
Yeah, get me some, um… Funyuns and some Grandmother’s cookies, not oatmeal.
And some juice.
Thanks for, um…
[cell phone vibrating]
[Mamaw] Are you gonna sit there?
Or are you gonna get up off your ass and help me?
[knocking on door]
Got Meals on Wheels for Bonnie Vance.
Well, this isn’t enough.
I told ’em I got my grandson now.
[man] Sorry, ma’am. They only gave me the one.
[Mamaw] Well, I called.
[man] I’m sorry. That’s all I’ve got.
I’m spread a little thin right now.
I couldn’t buy my pills this month.
Can you maybe…
[man sighs] Um…
Let me see here.
Well, I got some fruit.
That’s the best I can do. Will that help?
[Mamaw] Well, I’d take anything else you got.
Um, how about this?
I really do appreciate that.
[panting] Go ahead. Eat.
[energizing music playing]
[J.D.] 125 or 140?
[woman] Uh, 140.
[Mamaw] Ah, shit!
[J.D.] Hey, Mamaw!
[Mamaw] I’m back here.
[J.D.] Wanna see something?
I want to see these cans get on the shelf without coming down on my foot.
I got those.
Great, after that you can help–
Guess who got the highest grade on the algebra test.
It’s the best grade in the class. Best grade in the class.
Keep that up.
Mom, I got your food.
Give me the–
Mom! Stop it!
Just… Mom! Stop it!
What are you doing?
Please, stop it!
What’s wrong with you, Mom? Come on!
Don’t you touch me!
You get away from me! Bastard!
Let’s get you to bed.
I’m so sorry, baby.
I know, Mom.
I’m so sorry.
I know, Mom. It’s okay.
I know, Mom.
[Bev] Stay with me.
[no audible dialogue]
[no audible dialogue]
[J.D.] “For now we see through a glass darkly, but then face-to-face.
Now I know in part, then shall I know even as also I am known.”
Get the surp.
Get the what?
Can’t have pancakes without surp.
Oh, my God, J.D. It’s not “surp,” it’s “syrup.”
[laughing] Oh, God.
If you think that–
You’re so cute!
If you think this is so…
We’re not gonna be able to eat. Usha.
Say it again.
If I say it, will you get the damn surp?
Say it again.
I love you, Mom.
I want you to get better.
For you to be happy.
And I’ll help you.
I’ll do everything I can.
But I can’t stay.
I’m not saving anyone here.
Lindsay’s on her way.
I really hope you’ll wait for her.
[Bev sobbing softly]
But I have to go.
Don’t give up, Mom.
[cell phone vibrating]
[J.D. sighs] Hey.
Where are you?
Look, Usha, I’m… I’m sorry.
I’m sorry I didn’t just come out and tell you all this stuff before. Uh…
Guess I was just worried that I’d scare you off.
Not even close.
Where are you now?
Uh, comin’ up on Columbus.
Columbus? Unless you drive like hell, you’re not gonna make it.
I survived Tactical Driving in the Marines, okay? I can handle I-70.
Okay. I’m keeping you company.
No, babe. Just go back to sleep. Please, it’s late.
Nope. We’re doin’ this.
Let’s see, uh…
Read any good books lately?
Yeah. Yeah, Cases and Materials on Statutory Interpretation.
Oh, sounds hot.
[chuckles] It’s a best seller.
In boot camp, the only way you’re allowed to talk to your family is with letters.
And my family, they– yeah, they wrote me every day.
Mamaw’s letters were just the greatest.
She would go from, “Jesus walks with you, J.D. Stay strong.
Don’t forget that.” To, uh… [laughs]
“I wish I had a gun so I could shoot that dickhead drill sergeant of yours.”
[J.D.] My grandparents just left everything they knew behind and started over with what they could fit in Papaw’s truck.
That’s… that’s like my dad.
He came here with nothing.
He had to just find his way.
I think that’s what kills me the most about Mamaw.
I never got to tell people, uh… just how much she meant to me.
She’d been sick a long time, but when it happened, I couldn’t…
[voice breaks] Yeah, I couldn’t, like, believe she was actually gone.
Wish I could have met her.
Yeah, me, too.
Where are you now?
I had to get off I-95 because the traffic was so bad.
I’m on some side street. I’ll be there in about an hour.
You’re not gonna make it.
I don’t know what to do, Usha.
Can you go down there and tell him I’m on my way, please?
Yeah, yes, I can do that.
Okay, I’ll call you right back.
Okay? It’s gonna be fine. Drive safe.
[J.D.] Twice I’ve needed to be rescued.
The first time it was Mamaw who saved me.
[woman] J.D. Vance?
[J.D.] The second, it was what she taught me.
That where we come from is who we are, but we choose every day who we become.
My family’s not perfect, but they made me who I am and gave me chances that they never had.
My future, whatever it is, is our shared legacy.
Good to see you again.
I’m glad to be here.
The New Yorker, November 23, 2020
The Front Row
The Silent Political Messaging in Ron Howard’s “Hillbilly Elegy” Adaptation
by Richard Brody
“Hillbilly Elegy” (which drops Tuesday on Netflix) provides yet more evidence that, when it comes to genres that confine rather than unleash cinematic creativity, superhero movies and other franchises have nothing on adaptations of memoirs by living public figures. The director’s imagination is restricted by the blueprint set forth by the author-slash-protagonist—who is also available to complain, even publicly, about departures from the printed record. The result, often, is movies that are devoid of moral complexity, psychological depth, and social purview. In “Hillbilly Elegy,” which is directed by Ron Howard and based on the best-selling memoir by J. D. Vance, the gap between artistic imagination and informational dosing is even more apparent than in other recent examples of the genre (such as “Just Mercy,” which is nonetheless a far better film)—and, peculiarly, the thinness of the adaptation arises not only from where the movie doesn’t go beyond the book but also from what, of its source material, it chooses to leave out.
The movie is framed in flashbacks, starting in the past but apostrophized by the voice-over reminiscences of the character J.D. (played, as an adult, by Gabriel Basso), who explains that he has lived most of his life in Ohio but has his roots, and his pleasures, deep in his ancestral hill country of Jackson, Kentucky, where he spent his joyful childhood summers. There, he’s seen as a soft and chubby child of about ten (played at that age by Owen Asztalos), pedalling to his cherished swimming hole, where his reverie—floating on his back in the lambent sunlight—is interrupted by a trio of older, more muscular boys who dunk him and hold him terrifyingly underwater. On shore, one of them makes a sexual remark about J.D.’s mother; he charges them and gets punched out—but, at that moment, three men from his family intervene (confirming J.D.’s warm voice-over reminiscence about his family having his back), rescuing him and beating up one of his tormentors. The men then bring him back to the house, which is being packed up: the family is returning home to Ohio, and young J.D. bewilderedly asks his grandmother, called Mamaw (and played by Glenn Close), why she ever moved away from that wonderful place. Her daughter, J.D.’s mother, Bev (Amy Adams), gives the answer: “Because when you’re knocked up at thirteen, you get the hell out of Dodge, that’s why.”
That’s the opening sequence of “Hillbilly Elegy,” putting J.D.’s memory, his homeland, and his very sense of identity under the aegis of sex and violence—of male violence and female sexuality. These notions stand symbolically like silent sentinels throughout the film to suggest the raw, rough, dangerous world that formed J.D. and that he carries with him, unexpressed, wherever he goes. Bearing the imprint of these fierce attachments to clan and barely repressible passions, he is treated like a virtual savage in the world in which he, in the movie’s present tense, attempts to make his way: the world of Yale Law School and the corporate law firms at which he’s competing for work as a summer intern. They make him stand out—and the movie shows how J.D.’s crude energies get domesticated and channelled productively.
Howard puts the competition for an internship, strangely, at the center of the action. On the verge of an interview for a prestigious and well-paying gig (which J.D. needs because his financial-aid package has been reduced, leaving him with a heavy financial burden), the protagonist is summoned home by his sister, Lindsay (Haley Bennett), a harried mother of three who works in a shoe store, because their mother, Bev, has been rushed to the hospital after a heroin overdose. So J.D. drives from New Haven, Connecticut, to Middletown, Ohio, in one long night, with the prospect of an interview a few days later hanging over his head; the premise of the movie becomes a tick-tock thriller, in which he must arrange Bev’s care in time for his departure, at an hour early enough for him to make the ten-hour overnight drive and arrive in time for his appointment.
The parts of the drama fit together like a Rube Goldberg machine in order to show how J.D.’s immediate problems can be traced to their primal causes. Bev, we learn, had been her high-school salutatorian, and made a good start after graduation as a nurse at the local hospital. But, after her father died, she began abusing prescription medicine from her job, which made her act erratically. She put on a colleague’s roller skates in the locker room and skated through the I.C.U., which got her fired. This started her on the downward spiral that culminates in the overdose, which threatens J.D.’s summer plans and, by implication, his law-school studies and, thus, his entire life. Yet Bev’s inability to stay on the right track and care for herself and her family is, in turn, ascribed to her own rough childhood—her father’s habitual drunkenness and the violence that she witnessed as a result, when Papaw hit Mamaw, who, in turn, set him afire with a match.
The movie intersperses J.D.’s hurried effort to get Bev into rehab with flashbacks to his troubles during his teen years: the violent conflicts with Bev that he endured, and the instability of his home life with her as a result of her unstable relationships with men. In a matched set of flashbacks, Bev’s boyfriend Matt (Jesse C. Boyd), a cop, gets J.D. and Lindsay a dog—but Bev dumps that boyfriend for her boss, Ken (Keong Sim), whom she marries impulsively. Ken has allergies and forces the children to get rid of the dog. A lax parent, he lets his skater son, Travis (Morgan Gao)—with whom J.D. now bunks—slack off. Ken has a “Casino” poster in his living room, which positions him as more culturally sophisticated; he grows his own marijuana at home, and Travis smokes it. Bev’s relationship with Ken is, in effect, the intrusion of élite liberal culture into the Vances’ displaced-hillbilly way of life, and a marker of its alienation from American society at large.
This view of Appalachian alienation in action is made clearer by the movie’s depiction of J.D. and his family as having no cultural attachment whatsoever. The TV is often on in the house—young J.D. likes to watch the political news but never has a word to say about it—and Bev is briefly seen sharing an enthusiasm for football with J.D. Otherwise, J.D.’s family members are blank repositories of trouble, frustration, and striving. Even Mamaw, though gloriously profane and cantankerous, is devoid of any ideas that don’t cut to the practicalities that she tackles with blunt force and ferocious familial devotion. Miserable and confused by the new life with Ken and Travis that Bev has forced him into, J.D. neglects his studies, acts out, risks serious trouble, and is wrenched from that household by Mamaw, who takes him in and administers tough love. The crucial scene in the film is one that takes place in a car, when J.D. and Mamaw have a fierce argument. In the course of it, she sharply lectures young J.D. about the mighty exertions of study and discipline that it will take for him to “be somebody,” and about her reason for putting the hard work into raising him: “Who’s gonna take care of this family when I’m gone?” It’s exemplary of the film that this is Mamaw’s great aria; she has nothing to say about anything else.
Neither does J.D., for that matter. After high school, he joins the Marines and serves in Iraq, but that experience doesn’t figure into the movie at all—he says nothing about them in the course of the film. He doesn’t mention whatever culture shock he must have experienced at Yale (instead, it is portrayed in a pat scene near the start of the film, where, at a dinner with prospective employers, one refers to his family and neighbors as “rednecks”). This silence is worse than a cop-out; it’s an insult, one that’s all too typical of movies that depict poor or working people and presume that, because they lack education, they lack ideas, inclinations, a fund of experiences to discuss. The characters in “Hillbilly Elegy” aren’t literally silent; the director, Ron Howard, and the screenwriter, Vanessa Taylor, are more discerning than that. Rather, the characters are talkative about their immediate efforts—and their harshly florid style of speech is quaint and piquant—but they’re silent about whatever they may be thinking about beyond the matters at hand. They’re reduced not to their life stories but to the dramatic specifics of the movie. Beyond that, they simply don’t exist.
Yet, paradoxically, this cultural blankness, this reductiveness, isn’t just an error of omission on Howard’s part; it plays like a calculated aspect of the drama—and, even more strangely, like a positive trait, a mark of authenticity. The film’s stagings, images, and tones are as formless and as vague as its characters’ mental lives, and that vagueness replaces elements of Vance’s book which are politically and ideologically quite explicit—and which have been criticized for the simplistic lessons that they extract from his experience. In his book, Vance hectors poor Americans like his family members about lack of thrift and lack of discipline (“We spend our way into the poorhouse…. Our homes are a chaotic mess…. We don’t study as children, and we don’t make our kids study when we’re parents”) and, detailing a litany of destructive behavior in his community, concludes, “Public policy can help, but there is no government that can fix these problems for us. . . . We created them, and only we can fix them.” Howard’s movie doesn’t include a single line of such ideological advocacy—it doesn’t suggest that the character of J.D. has any political thoughts at all. Yet, through its very suppression of political ideas or concerns, it evinces the same politically regressive ideas at the core of Vance’s memoir.
There is a single line, in a subplot of the movie, that suggests precisely the political maneuver that the film’s aesthetic and dramatic texturelessness is meant to pull off. It involves J.D.’s law-school girlfriend, Usha (Freida Pinto). The couple have a warm and close relationship, yet J.D. has been reticent about his family background, and it’s only his bout of trouble back home that spurs him to open up about it. When he speaks of his grandparents’ migration from hill country to Ohio in search of work, Usha likens it to her father’s experience as an immigrant, who, she says, came to the United States “with nothing; he had to just find his way.” This is all that “Hillbilly Elegy” has to say about Usha’s father, but her comment about him reverberates through the film’s portrayal of J.D.’s family. The movie’s vision of America is one of “nothing” except self-interest and self-improvement; it’s one in which the only reach beyond the self is the one that embraces family, in which pleasure is a distraction and a danger, and culture is a fraud and a lure. With his soupy, impersonal manipulations of memory and experience, void of the burrs that attach them to the world at large, Howard, whether intentionally or not, has made a libertarian’s fantasy.