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Ben Is Back

In Ben Is Back, Ben (Lucas Hedges), who’s been away for four months in rehab, shows up on the front door just before Christmas. Mom (Julia Roberts, in her most substantial and powerful role in years) is delighted and a little wary, very much in that order. Stepdad (Courtney B. Vance) and sister (Kathryn Newton) are much more in the wary camp, recalling past holiday disasters caused by Ben’s bad behaviour.

Poster art for the drama Ben Is BackWhile the other actors get their moments (particularly Newton as a sister who wants to believe in her brother but just can’t bring herself to do it), this is really the Julia and Lucas show, and both are more than up to the task.

Without the film ever showing the peaks and valleys of a journey through addiction, Roberts and Hedges sketch it in casual references to past events, but mostly in the scars they both carry. For Ben, the worst part isn’t what he did to himself with opiods – it’s what he did to others when he began dealing. For mom, the challenge becomes getting Ben to believe that he’s worth saving, a task that may be beyond her.

Ben is forbidden from leaving his mom’s sight for 24 hours. But when they come back from a church service to find the house ransacked and the dog missing, the housebound drama turns into something very different. A mom-and-son all-night search for the dog turns into a dangerous journey through the seamiest parts of Ben’s past. The change in tone also gives Roberts the chance to play as wounded and desperate and fearsome as we’ve ever seen her. In this movie about a teens in trouble, it’s the mom who packs the biggest punch.

– Steve Pond, The Wrap

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