Ben Is Back (2018)
R | 1h 43min | Drama | 7 December 2018 (USA)
Synopsis: Follows the charming yet troubled Ben Burns (Hedges), who returns home to his unsuspecting family one fateful Christmas Eve. Ben’s wary mother Holly Burns (Roberts) welcomes her beloved son’s return, but soon learns he is still very much in harm’s way. During the 24 hours that may change their lives forever, Holly must do everything in her power to avoid the family’s downfall.
Award probability: 65% with high points for acting. Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges will get your attention for sure.
Review: The new drama BEN IS BACK checks off all the boxes you would expect in an end of year film. High caliber, emotional performances. A family worth rooting for caught in a struggle birthed from a parents worst nightmare. A young man teetering on the edge of one more bad decision. You feel that as a viewer if you let your guard down for one second or dare to relax, everyone on screen will fail. It is as if your personal engagement in watching is the only thing keeping them going. All you can do is fear the worse and hope for the best.
The story begins with Holly (Julia Roberts) coming home with her three children to find her fourth and oldest child, Ben (Lucas Hedges), waiting for her outside. You instantly feel the tension and realize that this unannounced visit by Ben is not expected, and for some, not at all wanted. Ben is supposed to be in rehab for a serious drug problem but since it is the holidays his sponsor has allowed him a rare visit home. Holly and Ben’s stepfather agree to let Ben stay as long as he follows a stringent set of rules. Things go well and everyone begins to relax until a sudden turn of events catapults Holly and her family into a nightmare.
This is not a psycho thriller in which Ben is a maniacal killer or a raving lunatic. It is not a ‘hide for your lives’ scenario or a trumped up Hollywood horror. In fact the nightmare they find themselves in is probably all too common. But it is tense and terrifying all the same. It is about a mother’s defenseless battle against the demon of addiction. The heartbreak of watching a son unable to cope or control an addiction he never wanted or asked for. And how these things attract violence, crime, and anger no matter the lengths you go to avoid them.
Ben is Back to place over a 48 hour period but it feels like a lifetime. Not because the film isn’t intriguing or engaging, The exact opposite. Because it is emotionally exhausting. As mentioned you truly feel for this family and the events that unfold are very impactful. You will want to hug someone. A parent, child, stranger on the street. Doesn’t matter. You will want to find solace somewhere.
The acting is fantastic but not surprising. Julia Roberts has few equals when it comes to bringing sincere humanity to a character. She fills a room with joy with one loud laugh but when she gets her ‘mom voice’ on you can’t help but cower. To give her a role like this? A mom fighting for her child? You truly see why Roberts is one of the greatest actresses of our time. The character of Ben is vital to the success of the film as well. If you don’t like him – trust? no, but like? yes – it doesn’t work. You have to be able to come along side Holly for her son. Not argue against her. Lucas Hedges is a strong young actor and gives Ben the right amount of softness and inner conflict that captures your heart. We have seen Hedges over the last few years find his own with these characters fighting to overcome.
BEN IS BACK is rated R for language throughout and some drug use. It is an adult drama with dark themes and intense emotion. If you love to fully give yourself over to onscreen drama and walk away full spent then this is a good choice. It will hold up on the small screen as well for those who like to wait for the home release. But if you follow the award circuit and want to see everything considered then check this out for sure.