Ben Is Back

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

Ben Is Back
dir-scr Peter Hedges
prd Nina Jacobson, Brad Simpson, Teddy Schwarzman, Peter Hedges
with Julia Roberts, Lucas Hedges, Courtney B Vance, Kathryn Newton, Rachel Bay Jones, David Zaldivar, Alexandra Park, Michael Esper, Tim Guinee, Myra Lucretia Taylor, Mia Fowler, Jakari Fraser
release US 7.Dec.18,
UK 15.Mar.19
18/US 1h43

roberts hedges vance

roberts and hedges
A gritty, realistic drama about a family dealing with a teen son's drug addiction, this is a superb team-up for filmmaker Peter Hedges and his gifted actor son Lucas. With an added meaty role for Julia Roberts to make it impossible to ignore. The film is packed with knowing details and powerful moments, although the plot feels a bit over-egged, especially in the final act.
When Ben (Hedges) turns up before completing rehab, his mother Holly (Roberts) is happy he'll be home for Christmas. But her husband Neal (Vance) and Ben's teen sister Ivy (Newton) think he should go back. Ben understands this, especially with two young half-siblings (Fowler and Fraser) in the house. But since he's doing so well, they all agree that Ben can stay for a day, under constant supervision. Holly accompanies Ben to a 12-step meeting, but can she stick out a trip around town to help him tie up some dangerous loose ends?
Ben's addiction was a result of being prescribed opioids after a sports injury. At home, he sees danger everywhere: places hid drugs, people used them with and some he dealt to. And having his mother continually invade his privacy is humiliating, as is being blamed for anything bad that happens. So he feels the need to sort his life out once and for all. But the more Holly learns about Ben's former life as an addict, the more worried she is about his recovery.

The actors' striking honesty brings authenticity even to the film's obviously pointed moments. Roberts is terrific as a loving, protective, terrified mother. Her chemistry with Hedges is riveting, and he gives a strikingly raw performance as a young man determined to get his life back, one day at a time. But he also feels he deserves to be punished for the things he did, and his guilt is eating him up. "I am not worth it," Ben tells his mother, but for her he obviously is worth whatever she can give.

This is a powerful exploration of the push and pull between parent and child. As one grieving mother (Jones) says, "We can't save them, but we have to try." These darker personal moments are far more powerful than the thriller subplot that churns up around the characters and takes over the film. Fine acting and sensitive filmmaking carry the audience through, but a deeper focus would have made it much more involving.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 7.Mar.19

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© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall