There has been no shortage of addiction dramas during 2019, and while “Ben is Back” attempts to offer us something new through the delightful performances of Lucas Hedges and Julia Roberts, it sadly falls into a series of tried and tested discussions on opioid addiction.
It’s Christmas Eve in small-town America, and the Burns family are ready to celebrate the big day. However, someone is missing from their Christmas table: their son Ben (Hedges), who is in rehab following a long-term drug addiction that has led to family pain. But as Holly (Julia Roberts), her husband Neal (Courtney B Vance) and their daughter Ivy (Kathryn Newton) prepare for the big day, Ben unexpectedly walks down the driveway. Ben’s rehab is not yet complete, and despite Holly’s delight at having him home, the rest of the family remains reserved about the dangers his return could bring. These dangers soon come back to haunt the family, leading to truths about the nature of Ben’s addiction that challenge the very fabric of family life.
Director Peter Hedges makes the brave move of focusing the film on one 24-hour period that captures the sudden turbulence of Ben’s return while exploring the desperate need of a mother to protect her son. Here, Hedges and Roberts are superb as they unpick the secrets of a mother and son separated through addiction and fear. However, the heartfelt and powerful addiction drama soon morphs into an underground thriller, losing much of the emotional attachment that worked so well leading up to the final act. The result is a slightly frustrating film that never decides whether it’s an intimate addiction drama or a thriller. Compared to this year’s other addiction drama, Beautiful Boy, Ben is Back stumbles in recovering the true darkness of addiction despite the engaging, dramatic and stunning performances at its core.
Director: Peter Hedges