Earlier this week I had the opportunity to watch Ron Howard’s adaptation of J.D. Vance’s memoir Hillbilly Elegy. Vance’s book, a compelling story of a working-class childhood in Kentucky and Ohio, made an extraordinary impact. It shot to the top of the bestseller lists and remained a bestseller for weeks on end.
Before Hillbilly Elegy there had been a number of books that had explained the challenges of white working-class families in Appalachia and the Midwest in sociological and economic terms, but Vance’s book was personal. In many ways it functioned as the memoir of an era. And now it’s a movie.
The film stars Glenn Close and Amy Adams as Vance’s grandmother and mother, and Owen Asztalos and Gabriel Basso as Vance during his childhood and during his time at Yale Law School. The movie was profoundly moving, and after watching it, I had the privilege of chatting about the film with director Ron Howard and with Vance. We had a fascinating and wide-ranging discussion that I’ve reproduced below—with edits for length and clarity.
Warning. There are spoilers in our discussion, but since I’m interviewing them about a wildly popular memoir about a public figure, I don’t think I have to keep secrets about the twists and turns of J.D.’s story. If you want suspense as you watch it, skip this discussion and come back to it after you’ve seen it. But if you want a fascinating conversation about an important film, read on.