Monday 24 December 2018

Movie Review: Ben Is Back (2018)

A drama about a mother and her son coping with the consequences of his drug-addicted past, Ben Is Back explores the substance abuse crisis through one family's trauma.

On Christmas Eve, Ben Burns (Lucas Hedges) suddenly reappears at his family's suburban home. He is supposed to be at a drug rehabilitation centre, but claims his sponsor allowed him the visit due to the good progress he is making. Ben's mother Holly (Julia Roberts) is delighted to have her son back for the Holidays; his sister Ivy (Kathryn Newton) and stepdad Neal (Courtney B. Vance) are more circumspect.

Holly keeps close watch on Ben, insisting on a drug test, accompanying him to the mall for some last minute shopping, and tagging along to a support meeting. Although Ben appears to be genuinely trying to leave his troubled past behind, small incidents shake her trust. When the family returns home to a vandalized house and their dog missing, Ben and Holly set off into the night to try and make things right. She is exposed to her son's secret world of drug addiction, dealing, and crime.

Directed and written by Lucas' father Peter Hedges, Ben Is Back examines the damage caused by addiction from the perspective of mother and son. The intimate scope allows the seemingly insurmountable problem to be probed at a human scale, the psyche of two people serving as gateways. Within an efficient 103 minutes the film takes place over less than 24 hours around Christmas Eve, Hedges using the time of family gatherings to emphasize the season of joy's dark side.

Themes of lost trust, blind love and not giving up permeate the film. Holly and Neal allow Ben to stay for one day as long he agrees to remain under Holly's eagle-eyed supervision. Even then, a hushed conversation with a fellow-addict and the closed doors of the bathroom or the mall dressing room represent potential breaches of trust. Neither Holly nor Ben are sure they can believe anything he says, and every action and conversation is an awkward dance pregnant with the suspicions of past betrayals.

Nevertheless, Holly will not give up on her son, and she is not beyond stretching the truth and straining her own credibility to justify actions and cover tracks, even at the expense of eroding trust with Neal and Ivy. As the night goes on Holly is further exposed to all the horrors of Ben's past, and she doggedly stands by him, for better or for worse. Her lies and willingness to find excuses come from an admirable place of love, but are part of the ripple effect propagating societal damage.

Julia Roberts wears the film's heart on her sleeve, delivering a poignant performance filled to the brim with a mother's resolve. Lucas Hedges brings out the darkness behind a young man's troubled eyes, achieving the difficult feat of giving Ben humanity despite his propensity for connivance.

Intentionally uncomfortable, Ben Is Back lifts a corner of the curtain hiding the insidious epidemic eating away at the community fabric.

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  1. I feel that by watching Julia Roberts's latter films, but for Eat, Pray, Love, her performances have gotten better and have improved in contrast to fare in Sleeping With The Enemy, Dying Young, Pret-A-Porter, I Love Trouble to name but a couple.

    1. Roberts has developed into a very accomplished actress, and she is very good in this one.

  2. I'll get round to seeing this one for sure

  3. she gets a lot of flak and bashing for the roles and films she has starred in, but like Robin Williams when she selects very good to great movies and there is no doubting that when given the right character to work with also, they truly shine through their performances.


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