American Elegy, a preview review of Netflix's Lost America

American Elegy, a preview review of Netflix's Lost America
With its latest productions, Netflix seems to have decided to tell the world what the authentic soul of America is, far from the metropolis, digging into the social fabric of a strongly contradictory nation and often victim, at least outside the borders, of a stereotyped vision of the American Dream. A concept that has found a tough test on Netflix, with the showcase of some of the typical traits of the American way of life so loved abroad. We saw it with Highwaymen, where the epic of Bonny and Clyde is demystified, or in the more recent The Roads of Evil and The Chicago 7 Trial, in which the less noble and enviable sides of this complex society emerge. An interior analysis of the States that finds a new strength in American Elegy, a film by Ron Howard inspired by a novel that arrives on Netflix after a quick visit overseas.

American elegance, unfortunately, loses part of his charm in a translation of the title which, in spite of himself, had to sacrifice an essential point of the fabric of this American portrait. In the original, Hillbilly Elegy gave a precise connotation to the vision with which J.D. Vance wanted to tell the story of his family, part of that rural America that is often derided by metropolitan Americans. Hillbilly, in fact, is the derogatory name with which the mountain communities of the Appalachians are identified, a term that is paired with redneck, used to offend the peasants of the southern countryside.

American Elegy, portrait of a defeated America

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memory of a Family and a Culture in Crisis is the complete title of the novel by Vance, son of those mountains of Kentucky which are often referred to as one of the most backward areas of the States. Starting from these origins, recounting three generations of his family, Vance outlined his human path, which led him to serve as a soldier in Iraq, attend Yale and eventually become a successful entrepreneur in Silicon Valley.

True to its title, the Netflix production presents itself as the reconstruction of the young Yale student JD Vance of the path that led him to one of the most coveted American colleges. When we speak of elegy, we refer to an autobiographical confession, in which the emotional impact of the events that characterize it are relived by the author to draw an intimate and honest vision.

How does JD, who in the days when he faces the tough challenge of being welcomed as an intern at a prestigious American law firm, he is hit by a family drama: his mother Bev is again plunged into heroin addiction. For the boy, this translates into a return to Middletown, the low-class town where his family lives, and from which he left years before to follow his own path.

From this event, he takes his away her journey into her memories and the reconstruction of her family history, proudly celebrating her roots and enhanced by the story of the life of the women of her family, starting with her maternal grandmother, Mamaw Vance (Glenn Close).

Forced to flee her home when thirteen becomes pregnant in the early 1950s, she and her husband head to Middletown, where the man finds work at a local steel plant. What should have been a dream, a new life, turns out to be a brutal clash with a merciless reality.

JD, through personal stories and memories that the viewer experiences as flashbacks, reconstructs the disillusions of a working class family typical of the rust belt, the immense region of American heavy industry that has suffered the greatest impact of economic crises and weaknesses of the second half of the 20th century. A situation of degradation that has presented a heavy bill to the Vance family, between domestic abuse and disillusionment that have severely tested the characters of the family members, as Bev (Amy Adams) testifies, unable to accept to accept defeats and prone to looking for easy escapes, between wrong loves and addictions.

Two great actresses

The Netflix film, seen as independent from the original work, is a good product. The construction of the socio-American environment of the period of the late 90s is cared for, both in reproducing the mountain reality of the hillbillies and the life of the suburb of Middletown. Ron Howard's eye catches nuances of these realities, lingers on the scarred faces of Mamaw and Papaw Vance as they remember their arrival in Middletown or follows J.D. while helplessly witnessing the self-destructive power of his mother, in a harrowing scene.

The expressive charge of American Elegy, born from the idea of ​​this search for origins, finds its identity in the superlative interpretations of the two central women in life by JD: Mamaw and Bev Vance.

Giving the face to the matriarch of the family is an unrecognizable Glenn Close under a make-up that makes her an old woman tried by a life of roughness, but who is not limited to prosthetics to bring his character to life. A physical interpretation, made up of painful movements and expressions that pass from the determination of a woman who does not want to surrender to despair, transmitting everything with a smoke-broken voice and looks behind thick glasses that betray an indomitable soul but marked by the injustices of a ruthless life.

Amy Adams instead takes on the role of Bev Vance, JD's mother Complex role, that of a woman who does not accept the difficulties of life and seeks refuge in drugs and wrong men, not accepting her responsibilities, but always looking for an excuse. Adams is perfect, able to go from the bitter smile of a girl who has grown too fast to the broken and lost woman who hovers like a threat in the lives of her family. Her beauty is erased by a make-up that lets all the scars of a painful life emerge, relying on the skill of the actress to give life to a tragic character and for whom, in the end, we don't feel hatred, but pity.

Vance's book was intended to be, through the telling of a family story, an analysis of American society, a slave to the myth of the American Dream until the day it realizes that this dream is, in reality, a broken promise. A laudable intent, born in a period in which America itself was wondering what its identity was, divided between those who saw Trump as a mistake and those who considered him the embodiment of the most authentic drives of the average American.

Why watch Elegia Americana?

Interpreting such a complex work, which has become a best seller in the motherland, was a challenge accepted by Vanessa Taylor, already appreciated for The Shape of Water. It was not easy to reduce this portrait of a declining culture into a two-hour film, and inevitably something is missing within American Elegy. An absence that can be perceived by the protagonists of this social photograph or by those who have read the book, but can escape those who approach this film, unaware of certain social dynamics overseas.

Se in homeland American Elegy is criticized for apparently not having grasped the essential aspects of Vance's social intent and for Howard's choice not to use original locations but to have fictionalized these places too much for stage purposes, outside the American borders this film can find a less severe judgment.

Howard certainly needs no introduction, and his experience can be seen in this film, where he guides our gaze with attention, makes us partakers of the life of this family, enhances their worst wounds but glorifies them with the rare, painful victories were equally intense. The timing, with the alternation between present and past, is designed to follow a precise emotional crescendo, perhaps too rapid in the final, but capable of showing us the inner evolution of JD, who from a shy and awkward boy from the suburbs (interpreted by Owen Asztalos), close to getting lost in the maze of a decadent America, he finds the strength to 'seize that possibility' his grandmother told him about, becoming the Yale student we know, played by Gabriel Basso.

Elegy Americana is a film that tries to tell an authentic story, made of suffering and desire for redemption, without sparing the viewer the pain and defeat of a family that has lived the other side of the coin of the American dream on its own skin. Accompanied by a delicate and evocative soundtrack signed by Hans Zimmer and David Fleming, this snapshot of a slice of America is an indicative glimpse of an often unknown and forgotten social reality of the States, but in which the events of America find their roots contemporary.

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