Ben is Back

Out Now On-Demand

Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges (Manchester by the Sea) star in this drama about a mother and her drug-addicted son, written by Oscar nominee Peter Hedges (About a Boy).

19 year-old Ben (Hedges), in recovery, returns to his family's suburban home on Christmas Eve. Ben's mum, Holly (Julia Roberts), is relieved and welcoming but wary of her son staying clean. Over a turbulent 24 hours, her undying love for her son is tested as she struggles to keep him safe.

Trailers

Directed by

  • Peter Hedges('Pieces of April', 'Dan in Real Life', 'The Odd Life of Timothy Green')

Written by

Drama

103mins

Rating: M Mature themes, drug use and coarse language

USA

Ben Is Back is, at least, the better of two recently released films about middle-class white boys with cute half-siblings and opioid addictions, played by actors who co-starred in Lady Bird as disappointing boyfriends. Where Timothée Chalamet played his Beautiful Boy character with a slump, Lucas Hedges (Manchester By The Sea) instead channels an apologetic agitation. He’s believably sorry.

When 19-year-old Ben (Hedges) shows up unannounced the morning before Christmas, his family are wary. Thrilled, but wary—he wasn’t supposed to be out of rehab yet. What follows is an exploration of the tension between trust and vigilance involved in loving an addict.

Ben’s mother Holly, played by Julia Roberts, is the best part of the film, a skillful performance of strength and cautious care. Minutes after Ben arrives, she hides prescription pills and jewelry like it's routine. Holly’s skeptical husband (Courtney B. Vance) and sister, played with an eye roll and a shrug by the brilliant Kathryn Newton (Big Little Lies, Blockers), are on high alert. They don’t want a repeat of the hazily alluded to “last Christmas”.

Directed by Lucas Hedges’ father Peter Hedges, Ben Is Back is interested in the durability of family. In one scene, someone from Ben’s old crowd breaks in and steals the family dog while the family attends a Christmas Eve church service. What visual metaphor of a middle-class family in turmoil more apt than a knocked over Christmas tree?

And yet, the film isn’t very engaging. As in 6 Balloons and Beautiful Boy before, the majority of the film’s second half is Holly driving around, looking for Ben. The extent of unconditional love is a compelling question, but the execution lacks vitality. The grey, uninspired aesthetic doesn’t help.

Ben Is Back adequately illustrates the cycle of rehab, relapse and recovery within the family unit. It’s just a shame it’s not done in any particularly interesting way.

Hollywood Reporter

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The film is aware of the weight of its subject but loathe to behave like an "important" film - focusing instead on the specificity of one sick young man and the family that loves and fears him in almost equal measure.

Screen International

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Julia Roberts blasts through this family reunion drama-turned-thriller with one of the most forceful performances of her career.

The Guardian

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There are good intentions and good performances here, but they're squandered in a movie that isn't quite sure what it should be and how far it should go.

Variety (USA)

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Most movies are focused directly on the present moment, following along with a story as it unfolds, but "Ben Is Back" is different, creating the sense that the lives of each of its richly shaded characters continues even when she or he is not on-screen.

Los Angeles Times

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"Ben Is Back" may lose its way early and often, but it is rarely in danger of losing hold of your attention.

Vulture

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Ben Is Back makes you dream of a world in which no one needs movies like Ben Is Back.

New York Times

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What is so moving and effective about Roberts's work here is her shrewd subversion of her long-established persona.

Stuff.co.nz (Graeme Tuckett)

press

Addiction dramas are a tough ask to get right. Make them too gritty and real and they'll never be seen. Too white-washed and they're betraying their own subjects. It seems to me that Ben is Back walks a mostly successful line between the two.