Multiple Paths to Success

When we commit to achieving a certain goal, we often believe we need to follow a particular path, doing so with unwavering fidelity. In fact, we may become convinced that it’s the only path to be pursued and that it’s the one that everyone similarly committed must follow. But is that really the case? Isn’t it possible that there might be multiple courses of action? Indeed, might that not be especially true if the objective consists of different components that each needs to be achieved in its own way? And wouldn’t denying such an approach lead to potential failure? Those are among the issues debated in the speculative new historical drama, “One Night in Miami…” (web site, trailer).

On February 25, 1964, the boxing world was stunned when controversial, outspoken but supremely confident underdog Cassius Clay (Eli Goree) upset Sonny Liston (Aaron D. Alexander) to become world heavyweight champion in a title fight in Miami. In the wake of that victory, Clay’s friend and spiritual advisor, Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), invited him and their good friends, football great Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) and singer/music producer Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.), to his hotel for a celebration. Clay, Brown and Cooke were somewhat surprised, however, when they learned they were the only ones invited to what they had expected to be a party. Nevertheless, the meeting of these four extraordinary individuals proved to be quite an occasion, and this film provides a speculative look at what may have transpired.

Underdog boxing contender Cassius Clay (Eli Goree, right) takes on heavyweight champion Sonny Liston (Aaron D. Alexander, left) in a 1964 title fight as depicted in director Regina King’s debut feature, “One Night in Miami….”Photo by Patti Perret, courtesy of Amazon Studios.

Why were only four in attendance at this meeting? As Malcolm reveals, he was hoping the occasion would be an opportunity for them to reflect on the future of the emerging civil rights movement. Each of them had become rising stars in their respective fields of endeavor, and Malcolm believed they could make an impact in furthering the cause of rights for African-Americans. Clay, Brown and Cooke had hoped for something a little more festive, a little less serious. But, as events unfolded, their discussion took on an insightful air as each expressed their views on the importance of civil rights and how they might be best achieved. And, given their various temperaments and proposed approaches, their opinions differed, despite a common goal, revealing an underlying divergence with the potential to stop the movement in its tracks and potentially tear it apart.

Malcolm, for example, championed activism, not unlike the kind he had worked to develop through his involvement with the Nation of Islam. Cooke, by contrast, believed that advancement for his people could be best achieved through the cultivation of economic power, something he had done for himself through his successful singing career and the founding of his own record label. Clay and Brown, meanwhile, sought to establish themselves as role models through their athletic pursuits, efforts that they believed could help them create new, broadened opportunities in other areas, such as Brown’s emerging acting career.

As the discussion progresses, however, underlying disagreements emerge. The most heated of these is Malcolm’s criticism of Cooke, contending that the crooner is pandering to White audiences and not using his high-profile platform to draw more attention to the plight of Black Americans. Cooke, by contrast, explains how the establishment and growth of Black-owned enterprises could help the community advance – not necessarily in a “flashy” way, but in one that had substantive impact. Instead of frothy, insipid ballads, Malcolm contends that his friend should be writing and performing songs like Bob Dylan’s Blowin’ in the Wind. Cooke claims there’s no market for protest music and is infuriated by his friend’s criticism, but Malcolm’s comments obviously strike a nerve and give Cooke pause for consideration.

Activist, spiritual advisor and Nation of Islam spokesman Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir) invites three friends to a celebration for Cassius Clay’s 1964 boxing victory against heavyweight champ Sonny Liston in “One Night in Miami…,” now available for online streaming. Photo by Patti Perret, courtesy of Amazon Studios.

Malcolm’s caustic statements create a rift between him and Cooke, and it prompts him to examine what’s behind his inflammatory remarks. Upon reflection, he admits that he has much on his mind. For instance, he discloses that he and his family are under surveillance by the FBI. He also confesses to the growing discontent he’s been feeling for his association with the Nation of Islam, an organization that he believes has grown out of touch with the followers it claims to serve – and that has quietly placed him under scrutiny for suspected disloyalty. The shadowing that dogs him on two fronts has become so much of a concern that he now has two bodyguards, Kareem (Lance Reddick) and Jamaal (Christian Magby), following him to provide protection.

But the concerns don’t end there. Malcolm also speaks about the establishment of a new organization under his leadership, one that he was hoping could benefit from Clay’s involvement in light of his impending conversion to Islam, a move that would lead him to adopt the new name Muhammad Ali. But, when Clay learns of this, he’s angered – was Malcolm’s intent in converting him to Islam a genuine spiritual gesture or an effort to attract a high-profile spokesperson for this new organization?

Heavyweight boxing contender Cassius Clay (Eli Goree, center) makes a play to claim the world championship title in “One Night in Miami….” Photo by Patti Perret, courtesy of Amazon Studios.

No matter how many films are made about the civil rights movement, it’s a subject that always captivates in light of the magnitude of what transpired. The work of that initiative may not yet be done, but what was accomplished during that dynamic period of achievement in the 1950s and ʼ60s has left a lasting impact on our society and culture, implementing changes that may have once been thought unthinkable but that are today considered fundamental. And that would not have happened were it not for visionaries like the four individuals depicted here.

Having experienced racism firsthand, such as in incidents portrayed at the film’s outset – Cooke performing for a stuffy, unimpressed, all-White audience at New York’s Copacabana and Brown being verbally abused by a bigoted so-called family friend (Beau Bridges) – the protagonists knew full well what it was like to undergo such prejudicial treatment. It was because of what they experienced that they were motivated to move forward with seeking to bring about change. They envisioned a future different from their pasts and worked toward seeing it realized.

As the film shows, however, such undertakings aren’t always accomplished through single-minded, monolithic courses of action, even if there is a common underlying goal. Indeed, there are often multiple paths to the same destination, and it’s important to recognize this, for, without such an awareness, the prospect of a fractured approach can loom large, threatening to tear apart the overall initiative, as is apparent here. For instance, each of the four principals in this story believed firmly in their respective approaches to achieving success and what these ventures would do for the African-American community, despite the differences in the tactics they each proposed to employ. Because their beliefs (and their faith in them) accounted for the success they attained in their individual endeavors, each of them was convinced that their paths were the “right” ones that everyone should follow.

Crooner Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.) is one of four participants in a historic meeting to discuss the future of the civil rights movement in director Regina King’s “One Night in Miami….” Photo by Patti Perret, courtesy of Amazon Studios.

But is this indeed true? Their respective takes obviously worked well for each of them, so isn’t it possible that all of their approaches could work, that all of them could contribute to achieving success in furthering civil rights and benefitting the African-American community? By contrast, isn’t it also possible that arguing over which approach was best – to the exclusion of the others – would lead to a schism in the movement? And who would be served by that?

As a corollary to understanding the benefits of the multi-path approach to success, it’s helpful to realize that the different approaches are all components of a larger undertaking, one in which each plays a crucial role, even if not readily viewed in such a light. This co-creative effort can work miracles, with each element contributing toward a common goal. By employing such a cooperative approach, it’s possible to realize the desired outcome, with everyone doing his or her part to reach that destination.

To fulfill the manifestation of each component, it’s important to be authentic with ourselves. This is one of the most effective ways to materialize what we want, and, in a situation like this, where competing viewpoints might vie for top billing, it’s critical that we remain true to ourselves, despite what other options might cross our paths and attempt to coerce us into pursuing different paths. By sticking to our sense of personal integrity, we can best assure that the manifestations we seek to bring about are truly brought into being. And that’s important, especially where multiple, diverse components are all essential to achieving a particular result.

Sticking to our authenticity often calls upon us to rise above our fears, doubts and limitations, and doing so, in turn, frequently requires us to adjust our outlooks in these areas accordingly. By overcoming what we see as the hindrances that are holding us back (or that we allow to hold us back), we can enable our authenticity to shine through. Again, this is crucial to attain what we seek and to live up to our commitments for participating in these collective ventures.

Football great Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) bears witness to history as four African-American icons gather to discuss the future of the civil rights movement in “One Night in Miami….” Photo by Patti Perret, courtesy of Amazon Studios.

Should we succeed in these areas, it’s genuinely possible for us to live out our destiny, to work toward the betterment of ourselves and those around us. That’s especially true when it comes to ventures as noble and impactful as realizing civil rights for everyone, and that’s something each of the film’s four principals understood clearly. To achieve that, though, they needed to learn how to straddle the fence that simultaneously allowed them to work together and to be themselves. Admittedly, that may not be a particularly easy course to follow, but, when it’s skillfully envisioned, planned and implemented, truly astounding results are possible. Just look at what’s been accomplished in this area since that fateful night in 1964.

Based on Kemp Powers’s play by the same name, filmmaker Regina King’s directorial debut about this historic 1964 meeting provides a speculative, albeit captivating look at the civil rights movement from the inside. This production presents a balanced examination of the four friends’ views on the subject, including both their areas of concurrence and disagreement and how those pointed opinions had the potential to either tear them apart or bring them together, a sentiment that still rings true today on many societal fronts. The excellent ensemble cast of Ben-Adir, Goree, Hodge and Odom enlivens the superbly penned screenplay, giving the picture a crackling intensity that’s tautly sustained throughout. And, despite a few stagey segments, this is arguably one of the best theatre-to-screen translations I’ve ever seen, effectively opening up the source material and giving it breathing room that such adaptations often lack. King has indeed produced a magnificent work here, handily serving up the right picture for our times, one that gives us all much to ponder in terms of where we are and where we go from here. The film is available for streaming exclusively on Amazon Prime Video.

“One Night in Miami…” has earned the favor of many film critics and captured multiple nominations in multiple awards competitions. As one of the American Film Institute’s Movies of the Year, the picture has already won the National Board of Review Freedom of Expression Award and the Independent Spirit Awards’ Robert Altman Award for best ensemble cast. In addition, this release has earned two Screen Actors Guild Award nods for best cast and best supporting actor (Odom). But it’s through the Critics Choice Award competition where the film has fared best, picking up six nominations for best picture, director, screenplay, ensemble, song and supporting actor (Odom). The film also earned three Golden Globe nods for best director, song and supporting actor (Odom) but took home no statues.

On a historic night in south Florida, four icons of the civil rights movement meet to reflect on its future (from left), singer/producer Sam Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.), boxer Cassius Clay (Eli Goree), Nation of Islam spokesperson Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir) and football great Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge), in “One Night in Miami….” Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios.

When we’re attempting to pursue a particular goal, the last thing we need to do is to work against ourselves, especially when success depends on relying on the cooperation of others. It’s a time to keep an open mind and consider a variety of possibilities, particularly when the goal is made up of a variety of diverse elements. In those situations, the expertise that others bring to the table through the proficiency of their actions (and the formation of their underlying manifesting approaches) should be embraced with open arms and deftly implemented in our collective plans. And, were it not for the adoption of such an approach nearly 60 years ago, there’s no telling where the civil rights movement would be today. 

A complete review is available by clicking here. 

Walking the Path of Redemption

When we stumble in life, getting back on track can be difficult, but, when we do, the feeling can be quite gratifying. However, if that reawakening is intruded upon by some kind of new setback, we may be left discouraged and disheartened. All that work may have seemingly gone for naught. But what if this new development is intended to take us to an even higher level than what we’ve achieved through our initial comeback? We’ve likely already seen that our first turnaround brought us redemption we probably never thought we’d attain, so why couldn’t it happen again – and this time on an even grander scale? That’s the challenge faced by an artist looking to walk the path of redemption in the compelling new drama, “Sound of Metal” (web site, trailer).

After years of struggling to get clean, recovering addict Ruben Stone (Riz Ahmed) finally seems to have found himself. As a drummer for a heavy metal duo with his girlfriend, Lou Berger (Olivia Cooke), Ruben and his significant other tour the country in their RV, mostly playing one-nighters at small venues trying to make a name for themselves and generate some cash along the way. They seem relatively happy, thanks to their romantic and artistic collaboration. But there’s more to their relationship than this: They’re recovery partners. Lou helped Ruben kick his addictions to an array of substances, while he helped her break the habit of intentionally hurting herself. It’s an arrangement that has proved fruitful on so many fronts.

Which is why what happens next is so demoralizing. Suddenly and quite unexpectedly, Ruben notices a dramatic hearing loss. At first it seems intermittent, but it deteriorates severely not long thereafter, reaching a point where a specialist, Dr. Paysinger (Tom Kemp), measures his hearing capacity at just a few notches above 20 percent – and failing fast. Ruben desperately asks the doctor about treatments, but he offers little hope, delivering the news that he’s on the fast track toward deafness. The only solution Dr. Paysinger offers is the possibility of surgery involving cochlear implants, devices designed to help restore at least some of the patient’s lost hearing. However, he notes that the procedure and equipment are quite expensive – usually in the range of $40,000 to $80,000 – and that insurance rarely covers the cost.

Needless to say, Ruben is devastated. He sees this development as the end of his music career – and with that, a fundamental loss of his new identity. The stress of the situation troubles him so much that the thought of going back to using crosses his mind. Lou tries to offer comfort, but, given her own history, she’s placed in jeopardy of backsliding as well. Given these conditions, as well as the fact that Ruben is in no position to afford the implant surgery, a specially tailored solution to these circumstances is warranted. But what?

After contacting Ruben’s manager, a possible answer surfaces. He puts Ruben in touch with Joe (Paul Raci), manager of a rehab community for the deaf. The Vietnam veteran, who lost his hearing (and virtually everything else in his life) in an accident, meets with Ruben at the community’s idyllic rural facility to explain what’s involved in his treatment. And, as the plan’s details are explained, Ruben is less than enthusiastic.

Heavy metal drummer Ruben Stone (Riz Ahmed) faces a daunting future when the musician suddenly finds himself going deaf in director Darius Marder’s debut narrative feature, “Sound of Metal.” Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios.

In essence, Joe tells Ruben that he will teach him how to be a deaf person, a revelation that comes as a shock. It goes against everything that Ruben is hoping for, namely, finding a way to come up with the funds to pay for the surgery that he’s obsessed with getting to restore his hearing. But, as Joe further explains, he wants Ruben to come to see himself in the same light as the rest of the members of the community – as people who view their condition as a difference, not a disability. Joe also stresses that, if Ruben is willing to follow the plan and adapt to these circumstances, he will likely find his life as fulfilling – if not more so – than what he experienced prior to coming there.

Given Ruben’s unsettled past, as well as his troubled present, both of which are characterized by keeping a tight lid on his feelings, the prospect of potentially finding inner peace appeals to him. But can he achieve it? It means moving into the community, giving up his RV and cell phone, and, perhaps most troubling, saying goodbye to Lou, at least for the near future. He’ll also need to learn American Sign Language and find ways to integrate himself into a community of strangers, all of whom seem to feel quite differently about their hearing loss from the way he does. And, all the while, thoughts of getting that surgery and raising the money for it linger just below the surface of his consciousness.

At first, Ruben struggles to fit in. He finds communication challenging. He views the restrictions placed upon him with frustration. He even looks for ways to circumvent the rules. What’s more, he’s worried about Lou, fearing that she’ll fall off her own wagon without his presence. But Joe will have none of it. He gives Ruben a series of assignments to come to terms with his situation, most notably journaling his feelings – not just about recent events but about everything that brought him to this point in his life. He stresses that the silence that has recently been imposed upon him could actually prove to be an ally in that process; without the audio distractions of the hearing world, he might be able to tune in to aspects of himself that have long gone ignored, showing him a way out of his current challenge and providing him with a path for his future. Of course, quite ironically, the question here is, “Will he listen?”

Lou Berger (Olivia Cooke), half of a heavy mental duo, grows concerned when her artistic collaborator and romantic partner learns he’s going deaf in the stirring new drama, “Sound of Metal,” now available for online streaming. Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios.

As Ruben spends more time among community members, he begins to adapt, finding a sort of extended family that he’s never really had before. They appreciate him, and he sees that, making it possible for him to return the favor. He even learns that he’s able to teach others how to play the drums, showing him that music can still be a part of his life. Indeed, everything that Joe had said would emerge appears to be coming true. But did Ruben really hear the message? And what will his response mean for the future that awaits him?

It’s disheartening when life doesn’t work out as planned. That’s especially true when it takes a drastic left turn, moving in a direction far removed from what we hoped for. But sometimes those seeming missteps unexpectedly usher us toward enviable goals, some of them more rewarding than originally imagined. Of course, that may not always be easy to see at that point, but, if we take the time to analyze the circumstances, we might end up pleasantly surprised.

The analysis process requires going within and taking a good hard look at ourselves, particularly our beliefs. And that’s important because our beliefs are the driving force in manifesting the reality we experience, for better or worse, in all its aspects. That includes those aforementioned left turns. As much as we may dislike those developments and try to distance ourselves from them, they nevertheless originate with us and our beliefs, and, as unlikely as it may seem, we all experience them for a purpose, even if that’s not obvious at first glance.

Such is the kind of frustration that Ruben experiences. Indeed, one might legitimately wonder why a musician would create going deaf, especially by the individual at the center of such a scenario. Given the many trials and tribulations Ruben apparently experienced prior to becoming a drummer, it seems unfair that he would develop a potentially crippling impairment just as he’s found his calling in life. So what’s behind this? That’s what he needs to discover for himself, and that’s where the analysis process comes in.

Ruben is slow to embrace the process, however. He lets his fears get in the way. He doesn’t allow himself to see a way out by considering alternatives and/or unconventional responses. And he’s still gravitating toward distractions that keep him from addressing the task at hand. Under those conditions, it’s no wonder he initially makes little progress. His resistance is far too great to enable much, if any, forward movement.

However, as he settles in to his new environment, circumstances and routine, he begins to shift his focus. These transitionary elements, brought about by subtle changes in his beliefs (even if he doesn’t recognize them), allow him to adapt to his life as a deaf person. As Joe told him, he begins to see his lack of hearing as a difference, not a disability. In fact, it enables him to feel part of a community that he hadn’t previously known, one that has its own culture and way of looking at the world. He discovers that it can offer him a new direction in life, one that he hadn’t anticipated when he launched into this process.

As eluded to above, he starts to move past the fears that were holding him back. But this involves more than just his apprehension over losing his hearing. He begins to see the deep-seeded fears that have dogged him much of his life, including those that prompted him to escape into addiction as a coping mechanism (as well as all the fallout that came from that and from getting clean). This removes some of the seemingly impenetrable barriers that have blocked his progress.

As manager of a rehab community for deaf recovering addicts, hearing impaired Vietnam veteran Joe (Paul Raci) takes a firm approach in helping his patients heal themselves in “Sound of Metal.” Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios.

Overcoming fears, in turn, opens up new doors, such as the ability to think outside the box. He’s able to envision new courses of action that he was previously unable to see. Discovering that he can teach drumming to other deaf persons, for example, was a path he once thought inconceivable. This may take him in a direction different from what he had once known as a musician, but this venture still involves music. It may even be one that he finds more fulfilling since it surpasses limitations that he believed couldn’t be overcome, providing him with the satisfaction that comes from stretching as an artist, one of the most gratifying achievements that can arise from a creative endeavor.

These developments can then lead to something even more profound – redemption. Starting over might not be easy, especially when it seems like we’re beginning at square one. However, when we see how it enables us to overcome fears and exceed limitations, it shows us that we can become more than we thought we could be, particularly when we’re seeking to make up for what we perceive as past shortfalls. It helps us better understand recent events, as well as those that led up to them, including the beliefs we held and the decisions we made in selecting the path we chose. That puts an entirely new perspective on things. Under these circumstances, we truly can redeem ourselves.

This is perhaps best achieved when immersing ourselves in our innate inner silence. The stillness of that contemplative space allows us to focus entirely on who we are, how we became that way and the beliefs that led us to it. Of course, it’s difficult to make use of that resource if we’re constantly being distracted by outside influences. They draw our attention away and prevent us from concentrating on the task at hand.

This last phase of reawakening is something Ruben struggles with. While he may have addressed his fears and the limitations that hold him back, he has trouble going the final mile. He may say he seeks redemption, but he has difficulty taking the last steps – of allowing himself to sit in his inner stillness and let the silence wash over him to reveal what he needs to see. He must ask himself why that intimidates him and trust the process that Joe has outlined for him. If he fails to do so, though, he may never find what he’s looking for. So will he? That’s what he and viewers must wait to find out. Should he do so, however, that elusive stab at redemption just might be fulfilled.

Hearing impaired heavy metal drummer Ruben Stone (Riz Ahmed) faces an uncertain though potentially rewarding future in director Darius Marder’s “Sound of Metal.” Photo courtesy of Amazon Studios.

When our dreams and the life we know evaporate in an instant, we may find it next to impossible to adjust, as is the case in this engaging debut drama from director Darius Marder. While this offering has a little trouble finding its footing at times, it nevertheless takes audiences through the challenges associated with hearing loss and a recovering addict’s struggle to maintain sobriety in the wake of profound change. The film also skillfully delves into matters of adaptability and self-acceptance, as well as learning how to see “disabilities” as differences, not handicaps, qualities with the potential to give us new and unconsidered perspectives on our existence. All of this is brought to life through the fine performances of Ahmed, Cooke and Raci, as well as an inventive sound design that truly makes an impact on viewers. “Sound of Metal” is indeed one of the year’s best, available for streaming exclusively on Amazon Prime Video.

“Sound of Metal” has been widely praised in critics’ circles and has been lavishly accorded nominations in this year’s awards competitions. The picture has been named the American Film Institute Movie of the Year, one of the year’s Top 10 Films by the National Board of Review and a best first feature nominee in the Independent Spirit Awards competition. It has also earned a best picture nomination in the Critics Choice Awards competition, where it also captured nods for best editing and best original screenplay. The film’s performances have not gone without recognition either, with Ahmed and Raci being named best lead and supporting actor, respectively, by the National Board of Review. Both have also received Critics Choice and Independent Spirit Award nods for their respective performances, with Ahmed also earning nominations in the Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award contests.

We’ve all no doubt heard the expression “Everything happens for a reason.” It’s a saying that many of us readily take to heart in moments of inspiration, but it’s also one that gets put to the test when we incur some kind of seeming adversity. What then? The question of why invariably surfaces, the answers to which are nearly always elusive. However, if we take the time to examine where we’re at, who we are and how we got there, all without distraction, the solutions frequently emerge with startling clarity, opening our eyes to possibilities we hadn’t expected, considered or even envisioned. The redemption and rewards to come out of such situations are often beyond what we may have imagined, setting us on new and enlightening paths that allow us to discover newfound blessings – and to see them for the miracles of creation that they truly are.

A complete review is available by clicking here. 

Assessing Responsibility, Boundaries and Discernment

How far should we go when it comes to helping others? Many of us would probably say that we should do as much as we can. But what happens when those in need aren’t willing to help themselves? And how can we assess whether their needs are genuine or they are just being irresponsible? There are many fine lines to be addressed in those questions, and that process can be difficult without an adequate degree of scrutiny. Those are among the issues raised in director Ron Howard’s new, memoir-based domestic drama, “Hillbilly Elegy” (web site, trailer).

Yale University law student J.D. Vance (Gabriel Basso) has led a colorful, if challenging life. Having grown up in Middletown, Ohio, he watched his community deteriorate from a once-thriving industrial center to an all-too-typical example of Rustbelt decline. But J.D.’s challenges have involved more than just the slide of his hometown’s economic conditions; he’s also endured life in an often-dysfunctional family, an upbringing full of highs and lows. And, by 2011, on the verge of his graduation, those domestic ordeals have reached a crisis point.

Much of the distress in J.D.’s life has come from his turbulent relationship with his mother, Bev (Amy Adams). As a single parent to J.D. and his sister, Lindsay (Haley Bennett), Bev has struggled to get by. To her credit, she managed to put herself through nursing school and land a job at a local hospital. Thanks to that position and the support provided by a string of suitors, she has been able to provide the essentials for her family. But that came with a catch: While working at the hospital, she developed an addiction to prescription painkillers, leading to an ongoing problem with substance abuse and an array of unpredictable psychological issues. She frequently launched into out-of-control tantrums, often taking out her frustrations on J.D. and Lindsay.

Yale University law student J.D. Vance (Gabriel Basso, center) receives a desperate phone call from his sister, Lindsay (Haley Bennett, left), about getting their mother, Bev (Amy Adams, right), into rehab after she suffers a heroin overdose in director Ron Howard’s “Hillbilly Elegy.” Photo by Lacey Terrell, courtesy of Netflix.

Bev’s efforts at getting clean over the years have been met with mixed results, largely due to her inability to get over her past. As the daughter of Appalachian hillbilly parents who moved to Middletown from Kentucky for work, she has long believed that she was held back from attaining the kind of success she felt she was capable of. She was an astute high school student, but she came to believe that a lack of family support to further her education kept her from fulfilling her potential, her nursing training notwithstanding. The frustration that arose from this led to her addiction issues and emotional outbursts, many of them directed at J.D.

Despite the pain J.D. has endured on the home front, he has had allies in his corner, most notably his grandparents, Papaw (Bo Hopkins) and, especially, Mamaw (Glenn Close). They would step in as needed, despite problems of their own, to care for their grandson when his mother got out of line, especially when J.D. was an adolescent (Owen Asztalos). In fact, J.D. has fond memories of summer visits to the family homestead in Kentucky, an opportunity to help him get in touch with his hillbilly roots and the ways of his people.

But, even with Mamaw’s assistance (particularly her signature brand of tough love), J.D. still didn’t have it easy. His colorful, crusty grandmother had her share of bad habits, behavior that led to her failing health. J.D. also often angered when Mamaw would back his mother, even when she blatantly misbehaved. He wondered how she could possibly sanction such unruly conduct. But, under those circumstances, Mamaw would pointedly remind J.D. that they were hill people and that they take care of their own when the need arises, no matter how frustrating or infuriating it might be.

Frustrated single mother Bev (Amy Adams, right) frequently takes out her anger on her adolescent son, J.D. (Owen Asztalos, left), in “Hillbilly Elegy,” now available for online streaming. Photo by Lacey Terrell, courtesy of Netflix.

It’s from this background that J.D. arrived at the family’s current crisis. While in the midst of interviewing with law firm recruiters at Yale’s New Haven campus, he receives a phone call from Lindsay that Bev has been hospitalized as a result of a heroin overdose. Lindsay begs J.D. to come back to Middletown to help out, a request that places him in a precarious spot. How can he justify a lengthy road trip from Connecticut to Ohio when his future is on the line, especially since, given Bev’s history, she’s unlikely to appreciate the effort? However, with the admonition Mamaw gave him years ago now hanging over him in a time of crisis, he reluctantly makes the journey, hoping that it will do some good.

J.D. thus embarks on his trip, providing him with an opportunity to reflect upon his past. Through a series of flashbacks, he recalls an array of incidents from his upbringing. These sequences are intercut with the unfolding of his current circumstances, many of which echo the ordeals he went through with Bev over the years. At some point, he realizes he’ll have to make a crucial choice: Can he continue to support his mother, bad behavior and all? Or will he reach a point where he’ll finally have to cut the cord, despite the lessons that were impressed upon him in his upbringing? With the future of his law career on the line with the recruiting interviews he’s scheduled to attend, can he afford to pass up that opportunity to care for someone who doesn’t appreciate his assistance? That’s what J.D. is up against, with clocks ticking simultaneously on two different fronts.

No matter how we may lead our lives, one thing is for sure – we’re each responsible for what happens to us, no matter how much we may dislike some of what occurs. Some of us might find that difficult to accept and look for ways to pass the buck onto other people or circumstances. However, regardless of the degree we attempt to do that, there’s no escaping that the conditions in which we find ourselves begin with us, for better or worse. That’s because what we believe is what we become, the core concept in manifesting the reality we experience. And, given the power and persistence of those beliefs, the creations that stem from them can arise and hang on relentlessly and with tremendous impact until we make an effort to change them.

When faced with potential issues at home, teenager J.D. Vance (Owen Asztalos, right) takes refuge in the arms of his grandmother, Mamaw (Glenn Close, left), in director Ron Howard’s latest, “Hillbilly Elegy.” Photo by Lacey Terrell, courtesy of Netflix.

Some might contend that’s an unfair assertion since we may not be aware of this or of the specific beliefs that give rise to the outcomes in such situations. That’s particularly true when our beliefs yield results that seemingly don’t suit us. It’s an argument that even has some apparent merit. Nevertheless, however, disavowing our involvement in this process only delays how and why we manifest these circumstances in the first place. In many instances, this is related to learning particular life lessons, and one of the most common of these is, interestingly enough, learning how to take responsibility for ourselves, our beliefs and our creations, whether or not we approve of what results.

Given the dynamics of what transpires in this story, responsibility obviously plays a crucial role, especially where Bev is concerned. She feels as though life cheated her in her quest to see what she might have become, and her seeming inability to change that led to the despair that prompted her escape into addiction. She believes her life “happened” to her, which she believed gave her an out when it came to matters of responsibility, her own brand of justification for her substance abuse issues. And anything of an irresponsible nature that arose from that behavior, in turn, could be blamed on the addiction that left her out of control.

Ironically, circumstances like these are ideal for learning a lesson in responsibility, even if it may not seem so at the outset. The setbacks are aimed at forcing the creator (in this case, Bev) to see how, why and from whom those results arose. Of course, the speed at which lessons are learned in these scenarios depends on how quickly their creators are able to recognize their source, especially when it comes to identifying the underlying beliefs involved. If one were to repeatedly deny the source, one would have to experience the lesson repeatedly until the message sinks in. And, in all likelihood, the intensity of each subsequent iteration would grow to help increase the chances of the situation being successfully recognized for what it is. It’s as if the ante is continually upped until the word gets through, which is precisely what Bev experiences with her own trials and tribulations.

When a dose of tough love is needed, Mamaw (Glenn Close, left) doesn’t hesitate to serve it up to her misbehaving daughter, Bev (Amy Adams, right), in “Hillbilly Elegy.” Photo by Lacey Terrell, courtesy of Netflix.

It’s curious to see how Bev has failed at this over the years, especially in light of the teachings dispensed by Mamaw and, later on, by J.D. As Bev’s irresponsible behavior continues unabated, both her mother and son don’t hesitate to point out what’s going on – and the message still doesn’t sink in. Bev’s unwillingness to recognize this ultimately prompts repeat incidents, which, in itself, illustrates just how powerful and persistent our beliefs can be. They can hold on for dear life, even if they result in outcomes that are not in our best interests. That’s how badly they’re intended to convey the lessons we were meant to get. For our own well-being, we’d be wise to take the time to listen to ourselves and analyze what our circumstances (and the beliefs that created them) are trying to tell us – and teach us.

Bev is not the only one who’s learning a responsibility lesson in this story. J.D. is going through a similar process by learning how to take responsibility for himself when it comes to establishing healthy boundaries with others. Indeed, as frustrated as he may become with Bev’s behavior, he has difficulty pulling back when she’s in trouble, no matter how much her actions may affect him as circumstances play out, even as an adult. He’s obviously taken to heart the lesson he learned in his youth about caring for those around him, but does he know when to draw a line in the sand, even when it involves a close relation? If he continues to put others’ interests before his own, isn’t it possible that he may be doing a disservice to himself at some point? And, even if he were to recognize that, can he truly let go when the time is right for him to do so? How long is he going to allow his beliefs to hold on when they start to threaten his welfare?

One of the ways we can address issues like this is to hone our powers of discernment, particularly when it comes to seeing our situations for what they are and the beliefs that spawn them. This may take some practice to develop, but, once we become proficient at it, we can spare ourselves considerable anguish, frustration and disappointment. It might also play a vital role in helping us to better refine our own beliefs, especially when it comes to responding to circumstances that we find questionable, unproductive or potentially damaging. It could indeed go a long way toward addressing many of the questions raised in the preceding paragraph.

Discernment often benefits from sharpening our intuitive skills, a capability in which many of us could use improvement. That’s certainly true for many of the principals in this story. They, like the rest of us, could learn a lot from Mamaw. At many points in the film, she has a laser-sharp handle on her intuition, able to size up situations in a heartbeat and respond accordingly. She’s capable of spotting frauds at 50 paces and doesn’t hesitate to call others on their shit when necessary.

Single mother Bev (Amy Adams) seeks to resolve an array of psychological and emotional issues in the new domestic drama, “Hillbilly Elegy.” Photo by Lacey Terrell, courtesy of Netflix.

Intuitive proficiency can go a long way toward forging better beliefs and better outcomes. However, we must be careful not to become trapped by our own blind spots – beliefs that we hold onto at all costs, no matter how beneficial or detrimental they might be. Should we avoid that pitfall, though, there’s no telling what we might accomplish. If someone with J.D.’s background, for example, can create with the kind of skill that leads him to become a Yale law school graduate, there’s no telling how far we can go. Those who come from the hills just might find themselves able to climb mountains.

“Hillbilly Elegy” may have its flaws, but director Ron Howard’s domestic drama with a twist is far from the cinematic debacle that many reviewers have labeled it, making me wonder what film they watched and/or what agenda they may have. The film has been unfairly called boring (far from it) and clichéd (something that’s hard to imagine, given that it’s based on a fact-based memoir), attributes that are sorely misplaced. To be sure, the melodramatic dialogue and occasionally choppy editing could have been handled better in spots, and the “hillbilly” aspect of the story could have been better developed. However, there are heartfelt sentiments aplenty here, not to mention the outstanding performances of Adams and, especially, Close. Don’t buy into the bashing that’s been happening with this release; it’s patently undeserved. The film is available for online streaming.

Despite the many criticisms that have been leveled against this picture, thankfully the excellent performances have not been unduly overshadowed. The performance by Glenn Close as Mamaw has been richly recognized thus far, earning best supporting actress nominations in the Golden Globe, Critics Choice and Screen Actors Guild Award competitions. Not to be outdone, Amy Adams received a Screen Actors Guild Award nod for best lead actress. In addition, the film picked up a Critics Choice Award nomination for best hair and makeup.

It’s been said that “I am my brother’s keeper.” That’s certainly a noble sentiment, one that succinctly and eloquently sums up our need to show compassion for one another. But aren’t each of a “brother,” too? Don’t we have needs to be addressed, the kind that involve calling upon others to assist us? Yet can we be assured that such support will materialize when required, especially if we’re busy attending to the keeping of others? This is something that calls for balance, the kind that arises from all of us collectively being responsible and discerning toward one another. Those are qualities we can all benefit from, no matter where we hail from and no matter who we call family.

A complete review is available by clicking here. 

Copyright © 2021, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.