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Ben is Back

Opening Date
28 Feb 2019
NC16 Drug References And Coarse Language
103 mins
English with no subtitles
Peter Hedges
Julia Roberts, Lucas Hedges, Courtney B. Vance, Kathryn Newton
Nineteen-year-old Ben Burns (Academy Award nominee Lucas Hedges) unexpectedly returns home to his family's suburban home on Christmas Eve morning. Ben’s mother, Holly (Academy Award winner Julia Roberts), is relieved and welcoming but wary of her son staying clean. Over a turbulent 24 hours, new truths are revealed, and a mother's undying love for her son is tested as she does everything in her power to keep him safe.
By Rachelle  27 Feb 2019
Lucas Hedges and Julia Roberts' chemistry and performances are the driving force of Ben Is Back.
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It is hard to talk about Ben Is Back without thinking of Felix van Groeningen's Beautiful Boy. The films have much in common though they tend to differ at certain points. While Beautiful Boy is based on a true story from father and son duo, David and Nic Sheff, Ben Is Back is a fictional collaborative work of another father and son duo, director Peter Hedges and actor Lucas Hedges.

On Christmas Eve, Ben (Lucas Hedges) who has been in rehab for the past few months, shows up at the driveway of his home. His return is received with mixed emotions from his family. His mother, Holly Burns played by Academy Award winner Julia Roberts, is visibly ecstatic. In contrast is her husband and Ben’s stepfather, a stern Courtney B. Vance, who disagrees with Ben’s presence in their home. But it is Christmas after all so they decide to let him stay for 24 hours, on the condition he does not leave Holly’s sight.

In the few hours since Ben's return, he has seen a fellow junkie at the mall him and his mother were shopping at, has been to a meeting where he meets a girl who suggests they get high one last time, and is eventually found with drugs on him. Holly flips from smiley mom to profanity-hurling frantic mom within seconds of this instance.

Ben had initially lied to his mother, saying that the drugs she found on him were the girl’s and he had taken them away from her so she won’t have any to use, believing that he’s saving her by doing so. He eventually confesses that the drugs are actually his, hidden away in the attic of their home.

After coming home from church that night, the family find that their house has been broken into and their dog, Ponce, gone. Ben, knowing that this is not a coincidence with his return, goes on a search for Ponce. Holly who still refuses to let Ben out of her sight decides to assist her son in search of their dog. The journey lets Holly into Ben’s past.

From the get go, Ben has been portrayed as a serious addict, border-lining dangerous that makes his sister and stepfather fear him. And Holly, an optimistic and loving mother  who would go to the ends of the earth for her child. A lot of things are half-said and not shown, leaving much to the interpretation of the viewers. It’s even teased in the film when Ben’s character asks his mother not to believe him. Viewers are left to decide when they think Ben is a liar and when he’s telling the truth.

It’s no surprise that Lucas Hedges is currently one of Hollywood’s best rising stars. He has had memorable performances in all his previous work thus far, even scoring an Oscar nomination for his role in Manchester by the Sea. Expect no less from him as Ben. Director Peter Hedges truly played to his son’s strengths of being able to evoke tears like its everyday breathing. His leading lady Julia Roberts does the same as she delivers one of her career’s best in the role of a mother worn out by the trappings of her son’s addiction.

Holly's unwavering support of her son will have you rooting for both mother and child against the ugliness of addiction but Ben's actions will leave you questioning if the effort was all for naught. With two powerhouses at the helm of the film, Ben Is Back should appear as a no brainer success. However, the film feels like it still lacks a little something that is beyond Lucas and Julia’s saving. Without the power of their chemistry and performances, the film would have fell much shorter than it did. 
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