Ron Howard, the director of Solo: A Star Wars Story and more recently Netflix’s Hillbilly Elegy, recently called out film critics for injecting their own personal politics into reviews of Hillbilly Elegy.
The film has positive Audience Score of 81% on Rotten Tomatoes from 725 user ratings. However, the film has a 26% Tomatometer rating from film critics.
The Top Critics score fares even worse with a 19%. It has 7 fresh and 29 rotten with an average rating of 4.7 out of 10.
Critics savaged the film in their reviews. Esther Zuckerman at Thrillist wrote, “For all the overbearing sound and fury of the two lead performances, for all the purported gravitas, in the end it just feels pointless, a poverty porn portrayal of the lives it intends to honor.”
Brian Lowry at CNN wrote, “These would theoretically be juicy roles for Adams and Close, but even with those stars letting loose, the conversations about broader cultural and economic challenges that the book triggered get obscured by what feels more like a Lifetime movie.”
Daniel Newman at the St. Louis Post Dispatch added, “It is as if Howard does not fully understand the people whose story he is telling, so he feels compelled to force-feed the audience with the obvious points he is trying to make.”
Philip De Semlyen for Time Out added, “It may once have seemed like an Oscar-winning proposition, but Hillbilly Elegy arrives feeling more like an ill-judged, mind-numbing exercise in Hollywoodsplaining heartland America.”
At the Independent, Clarisse Loughrey wrote, “A narrative that belongs to a writer who refuses to admit his larger place in the world – and a filmmaker who thinks that a positive outlook alone can fix the world.”
And Ty Burr at the Boston Globe wrote, “The movie’s a neoliberal’s fantasy and a sociopolitical tract defanged. It will probably get nominated for a lot of awards.”
Alonso Duralde at TheWrap quipped, “It isn’t interested in the systems that create poverty and addiction and ignorance; it just wants to pretend that one straight white guy’s ability to rise above his surroundings means that there’s no excuse for everyone else not to have done so as well.”
Howard responded to many of these criticisms in an appearance on CBS’ This Morning alongside Hillbilly Elegy author J.D. Vance.
When asked about the critics slashing and burning the film, Howard stated, “Well, look it’s always hard to say and critics have a job, which is to see something, run it through their lens, and write, and talk about it. So I can’t argue with it.”
He then added, “I do feel like they’re looking at political thematics that they may or may not disagree with that, honestly, are not really reflected or are not front and center in this story.”
Howard went on to say, “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 certainly that was our aim and that was our effort. But I felt that it was a bridge to understanding that we’re more alike than we are different.”
Earlier in the video, Vance detailed his belief that the film does resonate with audiences today.
He explained, “Well, I think certainly the response to the movie and so many emails and messages that I’ve gotten since the movie’s come out suggests it still resonates.”
“I think a lot of people attach specific political significance, but these problems of family struggle, of addiction and resilience, I really do think are timeless because we still have an addiction problem in this country just like we did in 2016, and so I think for a lot of the audience, it does still resonate,” he added.
What do you make of Howard’s comments regarding film critics? Have you seen Hillbilly Elegy? What did you think of it?