Ben is Back, rated R
Ben is Back is an intense and emotional film about the love of a mother for her drug addicted son. The film is directed and written by Oscar nominee Peter Hedges (About a Boy), and features a strong cast.
The film opens with Holly, played by Oscar winner Julia Roberts (Erin Brockovich), and three of her children pulling into their driveway near Younkers, New York on Christmas Eve. They are returning from a rehearsal for Christmas Eve Mass. As she pulls in, Holly has to slam on the brakes when she sees her 19-year-old son Ben, played by Oscar and Golden Globe nominee Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea, Boy Erased), son of the film’s director/writer, standing nervously in the yard. Ben, an opioid addict, and has been sober for 77 days. Ben says that he is home for Christmas, courtesy of a pass from his sponsor, though we don’t know if that is true or not. Ben’s return is sudden and unexpected, catching the family off guard. This may be Holly’s Christmas miracle, and her two young children are thrilled, but Ben’s teenage sister Ivy, played by Kathryn Newton (Big Little Lies, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), thinks accepting Ben back will be a mistake, having seen the damage Ben’s addiction has done to the family in the past. But Holly tells her that this time it will be different.When Neal, Holly’s husband and Ben’s stepfather, played by Golden Globe nominee Courtney B. Vance (American Crime Story), comes home, he insists that Ben immediately return to rehab. After an argument however, Neal agrees that Ben can stay for 24 hours, but only if Holly is with him the entire time.
The film takes us through the 24 hours of Ben’s return home. It includes an opening scene of Ben returning to the family. Though happy to see Ben home, we see Holly hiding prescription drugs and jewelry that might tempt Ben. Ben and Holly go to the mall for some last-minute shopping, to a recovery meeting and to Christmas Eve Mass. But the film takes an unexpected turn when their home is broken into while at Christmas Eve service, and Ben’s pet dog is stolen.
The first half of the film was very good, but the film doesn’t maintain that quality in the second half, where we see Holly make some poor choices. The film features excellent acting performances by Roberts as the fiercely loyal mom, and Hedges, one of our finest young actors. Newton and Vance also deliver good performances as Ben’s sister and stepfather, respectively.
Content concerns include a significant amount of adult language including several abuses of God’s name. Themes include addiction and the impact on a family, hope, relapse, bad decisions, lying and denial.
Ben is Back is a well-acted, emotional, intense film, similar in theme to the recent and superior film Beautiful Boy. The film deals with the serious issue of drug addiction and the impact on a family, and has a significant amount of adult language.