‘Ben is Back’ review: Powerful mother-son drama

Writer-director Peter Hedges tries to make Ben is Back work with his son Lucas and the support of Julia Roberts.

Ben is Back is a story about a recovering addict Ben (Lucas Hedges) who leaves a sober-living facility to visit his mother, Holly (Julia Roberts) together with his teen sister and younger half-siblings for Christmas. Holly and her second husband, Neal (Courtney B. Vance), had no idea that Ben, who’s only been clean for 77 days, was being temporarily released for the holiday, and Neal — as well as Ben’s high school-age sister, Ivy (Kathryn Newton) — believes he should immediately go back to rehab. But Neal also wants to make Holly happy, so they agree Ben will take a home drug test and then be allowed to stay for 24 hours, as long as he never leaves his mother’s side. Things get progressively more difficult and dangerous throughout the day, particularly when the family returns home from a Christmas Eve church service to find that their home has been broken into and their beloved dog is gone. Ben knows his return is to blame, and he goes on a mission with his mom to track down which of his former contacts or enemies might have taken the family pet. Along the way, Ben hesitantly reveals the many frightening, self-destructive, and illegal things he’s done to feed his addiction.

Almost half of the film is a mom and son moments. It was an all-night search for their family dog, where Holly and Ben went house to house to find for a missing dog, which turns into a dangerous journey through the seamiest parts of Ben’s past. The scenes almost derails the family issues that had been playing out in the film up to that point, with the dog feeling like a distraction to what matters most. This scene is those moments where it showed the characters real identity, who was really Ben before he comes back to his mother. On the other side, it shows Holly as a mother who doesn’t know about what his son’s been doing for the last years he was gone and that she was only there to support his son. The director does a nice job of directing his own son. He does not give into sentiment and does not try to force us to love this young man Ben. But throughout the film, audience would end up caring a lot and growing into an appreciation to the performances of both Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges characters.

The film is best when it shows a mothers unending love to its son. The film is raw with emotions and quite too many happenings but it surely keeps the audience engaged. In its depiction of something that families are suffering through, the film bears witness to the pain of real people. The pain of both a mother and a son has. It shows us the struggles on loving a son who is addicted to drugs. Julia Roberts’ performance is outstanding as a mother to a lost son. She showed how it feels like to have a son you don’t want to give up to. Not until the end. In this time for films about teens in trouble, it’s the mom in this one who packs the biggest punch. The film is really best in showing those things to the viewers and it will surely keep the audiences engaged till the end of the film.

Ben is Back on a film being ignored. With Aquaman and Spiderman realms around cinemas it seems impossible to make a decent drama about an addict. Films like this tends to bland out character and turn everyone into the same boring person and it only cycles to a repetitive and therefore undramatic matter of getting on and off the same wagon, over and over, until death or recovery happens. What went wrong is the timing but the film is easily one of the best offerings of the year for it features a well-integrated fusion of family drama and crime thriller. It serves up an excellent mix of heartfelt emotion, gritty intensity, and shocking revelation. The performance of the cast in the film has an impact to the viewers and they deliver it properly. It was an unexpected film in the midst of a superhero genre films but it’s the best one to see before those films.

3.5 out of 5 stars

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