I’ve read from another film critic about “Ben is Back” being in the same vein as “Beautiful Boy.” Both these movies are about young druggies and their struggles to recover. “Ben is Back” isn’t about drugs; it’s about consequences and guilt. Writer/director Peter Hedges brings the right actors to ease their emotions and keep us caring. That’s the best part of the movie.
As the film begins, Ben Burns (Lucas Hedges, the director’s son) arrives home early from his clinic on Christmas Eve. Only his mother Holly (Julia Roberts) and step-siblings (Mia Fowler and Jakari Fraser) are happy to see him, while his biological sister (Kathryn Newton) and step-father (Courtney B. Vance) are still unhappy at what his drug addiction has done to the family. Holly let’s him stay for one day, under her strict supervision.
Things grow worse, as Ben is found with drugs from a support group meeting, which he claims he was trying to protect another addict. But the most challenging is how their house gets attacked led by one of Ben’s enemies, who takes their dog. Now, with Holly’s help, he must make things right.
There are lines I didn’t like to hear, but they become a minor issue. More importantly, “Ben is Back” kept my emotions in tack. The title character Ben is guilty of how his drugs has ruined some lives, and how he intends to try to make things right. Hedges is a natural as that kid.
Roberts is brilliant in the ways she plays the mother who would do anything to help him, and how she worries about his well-being. What mother wouldn’t? These two have chemistry. And you also have some fresh supporting work from Vance as the step-father, and Newton as the sister. I just admire the way their characters worry about their family heading on a down spiral.
About “Beautiful Boy” and “Ben is Back,” addictions of all kind are serious and depressing. The first title was more of a struggle, because of the disease; and this one is, again, about guilt and consequences. It’s the outcome that really counts in all this-the chain of reactions, the deaths and illnesses, and the challenges of recovery.