Despite solid performances from both Hedges and Roberts, Ben is Back never manages to rise above the tried and tested addiction film stereotypes.
Set in small town America, Ben returns to his family home just before Christmas. His rehab not complete, with many failed home visits behind him, his arrival brings family divisions to the fore; with his mum Holly (Julia Roberts) delighted to have her son back, but also filled with trepidation and doubt at his recovery. Returning to his home town Ben discovers the challenges and risks of his past still haunt his present, with Christmas Eve bringing events that finally allow him to share the true nature of his addiction with his mother.
With a winter setting Ben is Back uses its landscape and Christmas theme to create clear divides between the visual comfort of family and the apparent coldness of addiction. These themes are at their strongest when Roberts and Hedges are one on one, exploring untold feelings, hidden lives and a town with a dark underground drugs scene. However, these glimpses of a mother/son relationship and emerging hidden truths never quite hit the mark; drowned out by film that never manages to decide on a genre. Ben is Back mixes family drama with lacklustre suspense, with neither providing much in the way of emotional resonance to its characters.
It’s handling of addiction themes is often clumsy, playing to stereotypes while not allowing the audience to truly understand the challenges Ben faces. This is in no way a criticism of Hedges performance, who once again shows himself to be a gifted young performer. Equally Roberts is strong in the role of a mother desperate to save her son and believe in his ability to fight the addiction that has gripped his life. Ben is Back mainly suffers from a predictable script, offering little that challenges its audience, or offers anything new to the subject matter at hand. Direction fails to deliver against a talented cast, often feeling like a TV movie rather than a feature film; lacking any real vision of what the film wants to say. These factors coupled with an unnoticeable soundtrack and cliche setting leave you feeling empty rather emotionally engaged.