The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings
A CurtainUp Streaming Feature
Hillbilly Elegy on Netflix & Roadkill on PBS Masterpiece
By Elyse Sommer
It all sounds like a surefire winner with anyone interested in timely new work by top stage, TV and movie talent. For an extra dose timeliness it has obvious parallels to political intrigues and power plays on our side of the pond. That's because Laurie's Peter Laurence, has not walked the high ground, either in his earlier career in the furniture and real estate business or his personal life. And, while he does have a do-the-right-thing side, it's always subject to how his commendable actions fit in with his ambitions and narcissistic self-image.
The first of the four episodes begins with Transportation Minister Peter Laurence winning a large lawsuit against a newspaper that accused him of corruption during his previous job as Health Minister. This ratchets up his popularity, but it also sets the scene for ensuing strategies: By Peter to survive, and actually benefit from problems, that include a family crisis relating to his mistress Madeleine Halle (Sidse Babett Knudsen) and a newly revealed illegitimate daughter. . . by Prime Minister Dawn Ellison (a deliciously crafty Helen McCrory) to keep him at her side but control what she suspects (rightlly so) to be his plan to replace her. . . by the newspaper Laurence successfully sued to overcome the misstep of printing a not fully documented story by a young reporter named Charmian Pepper (Sarah Greene). Charmian's fate and the actions and interactions of various assistants add a House of Cards-like conspiratorial twist.
By rhe time Roadkill finished airing on PBS and became available to binge at by THIRTEEN Passport subscribers, we all knew that Donald R. Trump's White House days were done. And, while the final episode of Roadkill does tell us whether Peter managed to move into 10 Downing Street despite his moral misdeeds, viewers are left wondering how final that outcome is and whether it's a smart set-up for another season.
To sum up the Bottom Line Factors
Though written before the 2016 election, the book climbed onto the best seller list on the coattails of Trump's surprising victory and the puzzled public's hunger for something to help them understand what made his base tick.
For Vance, that escape from that Appalachian culture came via the family's move to a mid-American town, a grandmother who steered his path to a state college, and eventually Yale law school. It's because he pushed his memoir as rags-to-riches family drama rather than his conservative affiliations that persuaded Ron Howard that, given the right big-name cast, it had the makings of a Netflix click-hit.
And so it has! As I write this, it's one of Netflix's most watched new page-to-screen films. Again, not because it's a great movie, but because it's being clicked because it stars movie/stage stars Meryl Streep and Amy Adams.
Streep is very much the chief attraction and, while she certainly commands attention, this is the first time that it hasn't been in a good way for me. Gabriel Basso's performance as Vance's stand-in is totally lacking in charisma.
You can't blame Howard for avoiding all political implications at a time when we all want to get away from the media's nonstop focus on politics. But if you're looking for first-class entertainment, Hillbilly Elegy misses the mark in terms of authenticity, emotional impact and memorability.
Bottom Line: Stream it if you want to see Meryl Streep even if she's in a bad and somewhat boring movie. But don't expect to see Streep or anyone else deliver trenchant social insights.
Search CurtainUp in the box below
Roadkill, written by David Hare
Directed by Michael Keillor
Cast: Hugh Laurie, Millie Brady, Helen McCrory, Saskia Reeves, Patricia Hodge, Olivia Vinall, Sidse Babette Knudsen, Pippa Bennett-Warner, Sarah Greene, Iain De Caestecker, Danny Ashok.
Music by Harry Escott.
Cinematography Wojciech Szepel
4 episodes, 60 minutes each
On PBS Masterpiece Theater
Filmed for Netflix
Based on Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance
Directed by Ron Howard
Screenplay by Vanessa Taylor
CastGlenn Close, Amy Adams, Gabriel Basso, Haley Bennett, Freida Pinto, Bo Hopkins, and Owen Asztalosa
Cinematography Maryse Alberti
Edited by James D. Wilcox
Running time: 115 minutes