Film Review – Ben is Back (2018)

Title – Ben is Back (2018)

Director – Peter Hedges (Pieces of April)

Cast – Julia Roberts, Lucas Hedges, Courtney B. Vance, Kathryn Newton

Plot – Follows 24 hrs in the life of teenager and struggling drug addict Ben Burns (Hedges) as he makes his way back home to spend Christmas with his family and in particular his loving mother Holly (Roberts).  

“If you really knew me, you’d be done with me”

Review by Eddie on 31/07/2019

Ben is Back is certainly not light entertainment but thanks to some solid direction from its director Peter Hedges and great lead turns from Julia Roberts and the increasingly impressive Lucas Hedges, this 24-hour tale of the life of recovering teenage drug addict Ben Burns and his return home on Christmas Eve is one worth seeking out.

At times leaning towards the slightly unbelievable and sometimes Hollywood cliche side of things, Back mostly remains on the right side of the ledger thanks to Roberts and Hedges and some solid doco-like directing that keeps things firmly moving in the right direction, as we are embedded with the Burns crew (namely Ben and Holly) as they work together to overcome a serious of issues they are facing as well as a quest they are on to find their stolen family dog.

It’s an interesting concept and one not usually associated with the drug-addict sub-genre, a 24-hour like plot-line but it adds an underlying tension to Back which forgoes any flashbacks or character grounding scenes to instead let the story be played out in almost a real time manner as we slowly begin to understand past indiscretions and occurrences that have led the son and mother combo of Ben and Holly to where they sit when we meet them on Christmas Eve.

In this duo we have a great double bill of Roberts and Hedges who very early on establish a great chemistry on screen that reverberates through the entire picture.

Sometimes prone to overacting or “awards” baiting moments, Roberts strips it right back as the powerful yet emotionally charged Holly in what’s her best performance in years while Lucas Hedges on the back of supporting turns in the likes of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, Mid90’s and Lady Bird here further establishes himself as one of the best younger talents working today, making Ben a flawed, likable and totally believable creation.

These two performers go a long way to making the most of the films confronting nature, this really is a no-holds bar examination of drug addiction as we learn of what became of Ben and what lengths he went to in the past to fuel his unhealthy habit and its commendable that Back never shy’s away from the intense nature of drug affected lives and what it does to families and friends, making this tale of love and family a highly watchable one even if it at times stretches the credibility meter ever so slightly.

Final Say –

Anchored by two great lead performances and an intriguing 24-hour narrative arc, Ben is Back is a solid Hollywood examination of drug addiction that doesn’t shy away from the gritty reality of its subject matter. Not always easy viewing, Ben is Back is well worth checking out in the right frame of mind.

3 ½ awkward mall encounters out of 5  

6 responses to “Film Review – Ben is Back (2018)

  1. It was released around the same time as Beautiful Boy which I believe you also reviewed. What are your thoughts on how they compare?

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