Ron Howard Reaches out to the White Working Class with Adaptation of ‘Hillbilly Elegy’

     April 10, 2017

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A storyline regarding “Why Trump Won” is that he reached out to the poor white people that no one was listening to. That’s half-true, although recent reporting shows that he reached out to their racism and that their “economic anxiety” came second. Whatever the case may be, the media has a newfound fascination with the white working class, and that fascination is partly reflected in the success of J.D. Vance’s bestselling novel, Hillbilly Elegy.

According to Variety, Ron Howard and his Imagine Entertainment won a bidding war for the rights, and he is now set to direct and produce an adaptation of the book, which has been on the New York Times bestseller list for 36 weeks. Per Variety, “Vance’s book recaps growing up in the Rust Belt and the everyday struggles of America’s white working class as they navigate through drug addiction, and social and economic challenges. Supported by his grandmother, Vance developed a deep appreciation for education that laid the foundation for him to rise out of poverty and its cultural restraints.”

It’s a story worth telling, but I’m not sure if Howard is the right director for the job. Setting aside the fact that he makes bad movies on a consistent basis, his films are too slick and handsome to really dig into the oppressive poverty that Vance’s book depicts. I can see this adaptation easily spiraling into pabulum where the cast is chewing the scenery and trying to earn Academy recognition for Most Acting. Meanwhile, Howard will talk about how this is a Very Important Issue even though the film constantly mistakes brutality for honesty.

But maybe Howard will surprise us. Maybe whoever comes on to write the screenplay will tap into the best of Vance’s memoir and Howard will put together a cast that doesn’t go full August: Osage County. One can hope.

No word yet on when this adaptation might go in front of cameras. Howard is also attached to direct a Zelda Fitzgerald biopic starring Jennifer Lawrence, which seems far more his speed.

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