A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Family is an essential element in a person's life, and family members stick up for one other. People don't choose where they come from, but they can control where they're headed. Not everyone achieves the "American dream," but social mobility is possible. Addictions can be conquered with support and intervention, but in trying to help, families often enable them. Kids need steady guidance, love, and discipline in their lives.
Positive Role Models
JD is a smart and sensitive boy who has potential but lacks stability at home. Bev, who had a stressful childhood herself, has trouble holding down a job, maintaining a relationship, and staying clean of drugs. She loses her temper repeatedly with her kids, sometimes getting violent. Mamaw, who suffered spousal abuse, stands up for JD and takes him in when he starts getting into trouble, helping set him on a successful path with support and tough love. JD begins applying himself at school and eventually, through perseverance, makes it into one of the top law schools in the country. Some regional stereotypes.
Violence & Scariness
Plenty of fist fights and scenes of adults yelling at, hitting, and threatening each other and also kids. Three teens hold a younger boy under water. Bev nearly drives into oncoming traffic to teach her son a lesson, then chases him and hits him, breaking down a stranger's door in the process. He calls the police but later denies any wrongdoing. Bev repeatedly hurts her kids and herself, including taking drugs and at one point apparently cutting her wrist. Papaw comes home drunk and gets abusive, leading Mamaw to set him on fire. Their two young daughters see all this and one puts the fire out. Mamaw threatens to run people over or tells them they can talk to the barrel of her gun. Teens break into a factory and vandalize the inside, then make a getaway in a car, nearly hitting a motorcycle and crashing into a ditch.
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Violence & Scariness in your kid's entertainment guide.Get started
Sex, Romance & Nudity
Some discussion of women and girls getting pregnant and limiting their futures in the process, including Bev and also Mamaw, who was "knocked up at 13." JD and his law school girlfriend Usha hug and kiss.
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Sex, Romance & Nudity in your kid's entertainment guide.Get started
Insults and swearing throughout the film includes "junkie whore," "suck," "d--k," "d--khead," "ass," "a--hole," "p-ssy," "s--t," "bulls--t," "chickensh--t," "bastard," "f--k," "douchebag," "hell," "damn," "piss," "bitch," "fart." Other insults include "idiot," "stupid," "redneck," "dirtbag," and the middle finger. People use terms like "God," "Jesus," and "holy."
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Language in your kid's entertainment guide.Get started
Products & Purchases
A key message concerns the challenges of breaking out of poverty. People traditionally flee poorer areas or countries seeking prosperity, but they don't always find it. Unexpected expenses can mean insurmountable setbacks. A child is failing math but his family can't afford the $80-plus calculator required for class. When his grandmother buys it for him, it means forgoing a prescription and having less to eat that month. His mother puts herself through nursing school as a single parent. When she falls ill due to addiction, the hospital kicks her out because she doesn't have insurance. Her son juggles multiple credit cards to pay for expenses and works three jobs to afford college tuition. He lacks necessary cultural capital in affluent settings at Yale. Brands seen prominently include Mac, iPhone, Radio Shack, Yale, Terminator, and Meals on Wheels.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Bev struggles with addiction to painkillers and later heroin, suffering an overdose that puts her in the hospital. Even so, JD catches her trying to inject heroin on a motel bathroom floor the day she's released from the hospital. A flashback shows her begging him to provide her a clean urine sample so she can pass a drug test at work. Mamaw chain smokes cigarettes and Bev smokes too. Papaw appears to have had a drinking problem. Adults drink alcohol at parties and events. As a teen, JD's friends are experimenting with pot, alcohol, and whippits, and there's peer pressure to partake. End credits tell us Bev has been sober for six years.
Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Drinking, Drugs & Smoking in your kid's entertainment guide.Get started
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Hillbilly Elegy deals with mature themes including abuse, addiction, and poverty. Heavy swearing and serious insults ("junkie whore," "redneck," "d--k," "d--khead," "a--hole," "p-ssy," "f--k") are used throughout, and kids and teens witness adult-on-adult and adult-on-child violence, often intensified by drugs and alcohol. A challenging year in the teenage life of the main character is seen through flashbacks to show how things turned around for him. In the flashbacks, we see him abused emotionally and physically by his drug-addled and often out-of-work mother. He's offered drugs and alcohol by other teens, who get him into trouble with the law as well. His grandmother takes him in and sets him straight with the message that it's up to him whether he wants to "be somebody or not." Her other consistent message is to put family first, which we see him do repeatedly for his mom, including denying any wrongdoing after she abuses him and helping her after a heroin overdose. Some discussion of women and girls getting pregnant and limiting their futures in the process, including Bev and also Mamaw, who was "knocked up at 13." The movie promotes some regional stereotypes. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
Fans of JD Vance's best-selling memoir, Hillbilly Elegy, will appreciate how the film adaptation has brought some scenes and relationships from memorable page to screen. The verdant hill country of poor, white Kentucky; a fancy Yale dinner with a confusing array of cutlery; the vicious cycles of poverty, addiction, and abuse that are so difficult to break out of. As the end credits confirm with photos of Vance's real family, the filmmakers also did a remarkable job styling the actors to look like the real people they're portraying. Close is nearly unrecognizable as Mamaw and fully embodies the character.
But none of this will matter as much to newcomers to Vance's tale, and the movie doesn't construct as compelling a life story as the source material did. Rather than telling Vance's tale chronologically, the script aims to draw parallels between turning points and key events in two key years of life, intermittently employing a voiceover for clarity. The parallels aren't particularly subtle, and chunks of Vance's life between high school and law school have basically been skipped over. A tunnel metaphor employed whenever characters enter or leave their decaying Ohio town feels a bit obvious. The film's final scenes carry implicit messages about success that may or may not resonate with viewers' own experiences.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.
Suggest an Update
Our Editors Recommend
Movies Based on Books
Drama Movies That Tug at the Heartstrings
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.See how we rate