HILLBILLY ELEGY*CUT TO THE CHASE*
NOTE: This spoiler was submitted by Alex
In 1997, young JD Vance (Owen Aztalos) lives in Middletown Ohio, but spends much of his time in rural Jackson, Kentucky where his extended family lives. His grandmother Mamaw (Glenn Close) fled her family from there after getting pregnant at thirteen. JD’s family – Mawaw, sister Lindsay (Haley Bennett), mother Bev (Amy Adams), and grandfather Papaw (Bo Hopkins) are leaving a visit to Middletown but can’t locate JD. He has gone down to the creek, where some other boys assault him until he is rescued by some Vance family men. The family returns to Ohio.
As a young man JD (Gabriel Basso) works his way into Yale law school, taking on massive student loan debt while working three jobs. He is worried about his interviews for all the big law firms, especially since without a good job he will owe so much money, but his girlfriend Usha (Frieda Pinto) encourages him. At a big networking event, he feels out of place with all the fancy people. He calls Usha to ask about which fork to use and which wine to drink.
He then gets a call from Lindsay, who tells him Bev overdosed on heroin. He returns to the dinner table, where he gets in an uncomfortable conversation about his past with the other diners when one of them – a law partner – refers to his family as “rednecks” and he snaps back at him. Lindsay calls again and begs him to come home and help her take care of their mother, but he says that it’s interview week for law firm jobs.
In flashback to childhood, young JD remembers Easter with his family. Bev’s boyfriend brings a dog for the kids, which gets loose as Bev screams at the kids not to let the dog pee on her rug – which it does. She screams at JD, who then knocks over her Easter eggs. She curses at him and sends him to his room. Later, Bev comes to him to apologize and takes him to buy baseball cards. When the clerk is rude to them, Bev steals the cards for JD.
On the way home, Bev tells JD she’s considering moving them in with her boyfriend. JD says he isn’t sure because if they break up they’ll just have to move out again, and says that someone said she has a new boyfriend all the time. Bev becomes incensed, demanding to know how he lets someone talk about his mother that way, and begins speeding claiming she’ll kill them both.
When they stop, she hits JD repeatedly and he flees to a stranger’s house, where he calls Mamaw as the stranger locks the door. Bev breaks into the stranger’s house to get at him and is eventually arrested. Mamaw arrives to pick up JD, but as the police load Bev into a car, JD demands they release her and tells the police that Bev never hit her, and so they release her.
In the present, Usha calls to ask about the interview and JD reveals what happened to his mother and that he’s headed back to his home, despite the interviews. He arrives at the hospital, where she finds Bev fighting with the hospital staff because they don’t have a bed for her to stay overnight and she has nowhere to go. JD then gets a call from the office of one of the law partners who offers him a final interview the next morning. He asks if he can move it since he’s ten hours away but he can’t.
In flashback, JD remembers when he, Bev, and Mamaw found Papaw’s body. At the funeral, Bev is taking prescription pills. In narration, JD explains that when Papaw died the only person who ever got Bev was gone, and she seemed further away. At work – Bev is a nurse – Bev begins stealing medications and taking them herself. She borrows a co-worker’s rollerblades and blades through the hospital until a doctor calls security on her and she’s fired.
At home, the news about Bev’s firing upsets JD, Lindsay, and Mamaw. This leads to a fight where Bev slaps Lindsay and she flees to her boyfriend’s. Later, Mamaw and JD watch Terminator 2 when there is a huge commotion outside. JD runs out and finds Bev screaming and bleeding from her wrists, having tried to kill herself. Lindsay tells her mom they all miss Papaw, but Bev screams that it was her dad and she doesn’t understand.
In present day, JD tries to find somewhere for his mom to stay while at a cookout at Lindsay’s. Usha calls him and when she offers to come help out so he can go to the interview, he rudely snaps at her that his mother is a drug addict she doesn’t want to deal with that. He flashes back to visiting Bev in a rehab after her suicide attempt. She tells him when she gets out things will be different. In the present, Lindsay and JD bring her to a new rehab, where JD has to put three thousand on separate credit cards to check Bev in.
Bev decides to flee and not go to rehab, and she and JD get into a huge fight. He tells her she’s selfish and doesn’t care at all, and she tells him he just wants to feel superior. He asks her if she’s trying to kill herself, and she insists she’s already tried. He asks Lindsay why she forgives her, and Lindsay tells JD something he never knew – Bev’s childhood was worse than theirs. Papaw used to come home drunk and beat Mamaw, and Mamaw once lit Papaw on fire. JD talks to Bev and tells her about Usha.
In flashback, Bev surprises everyone by suddenly marrying her boss Ken. They have to move in with him and have to get rid of the dog since Ken is allergic. JD’s new stepbrother Travis wants him to smoke pot, but JD won’t since his mother has drug problems. Later, Bev asks JD to give her a urine sample to give to the nursing board. JD refuses, furious, and Mamaw hears what has happened. Mamaw tells JD to do it, making JD angry, saying that Bev is the way she is because Mamaw never put her foot down. Mamaw tells JD that family is the only thing that means a damn, and insists he do it, which he does. He asks to live with her and she says she can’t do that to Bev.
Later, Mamaw collapses and ends up in the hospital. JD asks her if she’s going to die, and she tells him she doesn’t know. JD begins doing poorly in school, and when some of Travis’s friends and drinking and want to go do vandalism at a former place of work, he offers Mamaw’s car to take them there. They go and destroy the place until the police nearly catch them. Lindsay tells Mamaw about the incident, and she remembers after Bev was nearly arrested telling her to take responsibility, and Bev finding Mamaw just as bad.
Mamaw marches into Bev’s house, finds JD smoking weed with Travis, and tells JD he’s moving in with her. Bev says she can’t take him, but JD says he wants to go. Bev tells them they were made for each other. Mamaw is tough on JD, wanting him to work hard and stop hanging out with deadbeats. She wants him to do his homework, but he says he can’t without an expensive calculator. She tells him to go get one, and he tries to steal one but is caught.
Mamaw picks him up, gets him the calculator – which he throws out the window and screams at her that he hates her. She tells him he needs to decide if he’s going to be somebody or not. In a flashback, JD notices how Mamaw can’t afford her pills and has to split her tiny meals on wheels meal in half to feed them both. He begins helping her out around the house, gets a job, and begins trying very hard and doing excellent in school, which makes Mamaw emotional.
In the present, JD takes Bev to her boyfriend Ray’s, where he begins throwing her stuff out the window and calling her a junkie whore. JD tries to break it to attack him, then stops when a horrified neighbor sees him. He asks Lindsay if Bev can stay with her, but she says she can’t because Lindsay has children. She suggests JD bring Bev to a nearby motel and drop her off so he can get back for his interview, which he does.
JD returns to the motel with food for Bev and finds her injecting herself with heroin. He rips it out of her hands and flushes it as she screams. Bev cries and he helps her get to bed, and remembers flashes of many times in his life, including Mamaw’s passing. He tells Bev he loves her and wants to help her but he can’t stay. He tells her Lindsay is on the way and tells her not to give up. On the way back, he calls Usha and apologizes. He asks if he scared her off, and she says no, and decides to keep talking to him so he can stay awake to make the all-night drive. He tells her all about his family, and Mamaw. Usha says she wishes she could have met her.
The next day, JD calls Usha and says he’s close but isn’t going to make it and asks her to go down and ask the interviewer to wait. She rushes out to do so and discovers JD is home already. JD goes to his interview, and over narration explains that his family isn’t perfect but they gave him the chance to have more than they did. Post-script notes how JD graduated, married Usha, had two kids, and moved to Cincinnati. Lindsay, her husband, and three kids live in Middletown. Bev works as a housecleaner, spends time with her grandchildren, and has been sober for six years.
JD Vance (Gabriel Basso) is about to graduate from law school and has a very important law internship interview scheduled when he gets a call from his sister Lindsay (Haley Bennett) that his mother Bev (Amy Adams) has overdosed on heroin. Flashbacks reveal that JD grew up extremely poor, and Bev was extremely volatile and had a drug problem, leading to JD living with his grandmother Mamaw (Glenn Close), who taught him how he needed to make something of himself. In the present, JD helps Bev get settled but tells her he has to leave, and returns in time to make his lawyer interview. He eventually gets married and moves back to Ohio, where Bev has stayed sober for six years.