“Ben is Back” is a family’s personal trip into the nightmare of addition, and how it destroys that family. The screenplay is written by Peter Hedges, and he is also the movie’s director. Plus, on top of that, he directs his own son, Lucas (who plays the aforementioned Ben). This is heavy lift, and the topic is dark and moody. But the acting and direction is very realistic, so it makes for an unsettling experience. The movie takes place right at Christmas time, but it is not filled with joyous Christmas spirit.
Holly Burns (Julia Roberts) has two children with her first husband, who is now out of the picture. Her children are Ben (Lucas Hedges) and Ivy (Kathryn Newton). Nice Christmas pairing, Holly and Ivy – right? However, with her new husband African-American Neal (Courtney B. Vance), he is bringing his two much younger children into the family. But the family unit has been fractured. Ben has a severe addition to drugs and he fell into a group of very unsavory characters. Ben got his girlfriend hooked, and she died of an overdose. So now Ben has been shipped away to a rehab center far away.
Except on this Christmas Eve day, Ben is back – meaning he left the rehab center to come home for Christmas. Holly is pleased, but she is also very wary about what Ben might be up to – or what trouble he might cause. Neal’s two younger kids love seeing the older brother whom they love. But Neal has many misgivings, seeing what happened with Ben in the recent past. Also, his sister Ivy is pissed off, because she feels that Ben has come back to ruin it for everyone, like he has done in the past.
Holly sets up some stringent rules for Ben. She takes him to the mall to get new clothes, and they even get to a recovery meeting. Ben does seem to be making progress fighting off the addition urges, but Holly is still suspicious at anything that is out of the ordinary. Ban has made some enemies in the town, so there might be some blowback to his return. The family goes to church that night and all is merry and bright. Except when they get home and find that their home has been ransacked and their little family dog has been dog-napped.
Holly heads out with Ben to try and find out what is going on. The two of them are stuck together in a desperate search of the ghosts in Ben’s past. They must confront the demons of his addictive nature, and the scummy people who had dealt with in the bad old days. Ben is pushed to do things that his old nature would do in a heartbeat. But he has made it to 70 plus days of recovery, and he does not want to endanger his future. Holly sees that her son is in his element dealing with the seedy side of life. Can he fight off the evil addiction devils that are pursuing him? Can Holly make a leap of faith that Ben is really turned around in his life?
“Ben is Back” is a movie that keeps people aware of the destructive nature of addiction. The family unit is portrayed wonderfully by Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges playing as the hopeful mother (but wary) and her son who has strayed off the path one too often. Roberts puts in a moving performance, and the depth of her despair is tangible. Lucas likewise has many powerful scenes, and he is very believable. Kathryn Newton does another job as the younger sister of Ben who suspicious of his motives for coming back.
Peter Hedges has done decent job in creating this movie, and in being able to direct is own son as the character Ben. The movie hold together really well, but in the second half there are some areas where the plot slows down and turn into more of a by-the-book whodunit. The special relationship is broken when Holly and Ben go two different ways, and resulting scenes are not as strong.
However, there could be some Award nominations on the horizon for Julia Roberts and for Hedges, perhaps for both of them (Peter and Lucas).
In the Phoenix area, opens exclusively at Harkins Camvelview at Fashion Square.