Ben is Back, written and directed by Peter Hedges, is a family drama about drug addiction. It’s a poignant, socially relevant topic given the country’s opioid epidemic, but Hedges unfortunately falters in delivering his message, making for an uneven film.


Ben is Back effectively introduces the family matriarch Holly (Julia Roberts) and her eldest son Ben (Lucas Hedges), seeing them respectively attend church with loved ones and sit alone outside their house. Forty or so minutes are spent bonding with the turbulent, titular lead, seeing him try to adapt back into society accompanied by Holly, who’s understandably distrusting of him. Here, Ben is Back does a commendable job conveying the nuances and anxiety families face with an ill son, testing Holly’s unconditional love against the skepticism of her daughter Ivy (Kathryn Newton) and new husband (Courtney B. Vance). Will Ben succumb to his urges and get high again? Can he be trusted? These questions loom over both Ben’s family and the audience, everyone rooting for him to stick to his conviction to remain clean.



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Unfortunately, the poignancy and momentum come to a screeching halt about halfway in, after the Burns-Beeby family returns home to discover their dog was stolen. At this point the mother and son duo venture onto the streets to investigate the kidnapping, an escapade of low rent vigilantism that largely betrays the wholly grounded nature of the proceeding material. This works enough for Ben when it explores his past mistakes and his desire to make amends for previous wrongdoings, but the believability of Holly’s character becomes entirely strained. While the cast as a whole is respectable, Roberts and Hedges both deliver emotionally gripping, layered performances, carrying the movie even throughout its weakest moments.

Save for a requisite director’s commentary and some trailers, Ben is Back’s only bonus of note is a photo gallery. Given the nature of the subject matter and the movie’s attempt to tackle it, it’d have been appreciated to see more making-of features.  

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