Ben Is Back (2018) Poster


User Reviews

Review this title
136 Reviews
Sort by:
Filter by Rating:
Ben is back and so is Hedges
Horst_In_Translation12 January 2019
Warning: Spoilers
"Ben Is Back" is a new American English-language movie that premiered in 2018 and took until January 2019 to make it here to Germany. It runs for over 100 minutes and was written and directed by Peter Hedges. So it is certainly no coincidence that his son Lucas plays the central male character. He is a recent Oscar nominee with an underdog shot this year too, probably rather for another film than this one here, but surprisingly not too many are talking about him despite him being among the mostg talented his age group has to offer, perhaps because most people talk about Chalamet these days who has another film in the Oscar race this year too again. Anyway, back to this one here. Hedges may be the male lead, but he does not have the most screen time. This goes easily to Julia Roberts, who really has all the material too, so it is almost a bit surprising she did not make bigger waves this awards season and another nomination seems highly unlikely for her at the Oscars, perhaps because the film is pretty simple story-wise for 100 minutes even. A drug-addicted boy comes back to his mother and her (partly new) family and the two bond again. Then the family's dog is abducted and the rest is a rescue mission that may bring everybody to their limits again. That''s the film in short. I could write a whole lot about individual scenes, but I will not do it so much now. Instead lets take a look at Roberts' character again. Her baddass moments feel cringeworthy. She has mildly funny scenes, like the toilet one very early on, but also real drama, her desperation when her son manages to trick her and get away and finally of course when she tries to revive him. By the way how did the dog really ran exactly this way? A bit unrealistic. But yeah, the dog's fate and also the son's fate at the very end make it obvious that despite all the drama, this is still a bit of a feel-good movie and they certainly weren't ready for an open, let alone unhappy ending. One thing I thought was quite a shame in my opinion is how underused a great actor like Vance was in this film. He has very little to work with, maybe a bit when they discover the burglary and well the scene when they talk about the money he gave his wife for her son's therapy is what stays in the mind the most. The only thing that stays in the mind about him. Other than that, he is reduced to stupid liberal race bait comments à la "If he was Black, he'd be in jail right now". I am not saying they should have constructed a story line for this character, but yeah it should have been more than it was eventually. Overall, this is a rocksolid movie with 2 or 3 very good moments, but also with one or two lengths, even if they aren't that serious and certainly no negative deal breakers. But even if the search sequence is intense in the sense if she will find her son alive (after the question if the dog will live), it eventually just turns into a Roberts acting showpiece and lacks a bit on the story-telling site. The best example is how she does not change one word with the guy who found the dog if he saw the son or so. Just no attention shall be taken away from Roberts. And she is good I guess. There is nothing she has not done in other films and there is always a bit of an overacting danger with her, but the character somewhat justifies it here. By the way liked Newton too on a completely unrelated side-note and would have been fine with her having more screen time as I would have been with Vance. So as a whole, this film deserves to be seen, especially if you are a bigger Julia Roberts fan than myself. It is not best of the year material or anything in any department, but worth the 100 minutes. I give it a thumbs-up.
2 out of 7 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
we suffer the unfortunate things
lee_eisenberg27 May 2019
Peter Hedges's "Ben Is Back" is what one might call a Christmas-adjacent movie: it takes place around Christmas but the plot doesn't relate to Christmas. In this case, a woman in a stable family goes home and finds that her son is there after having been in drug treatment. This opens the door to a series of unpleasant events.

Julia Roberts spent much of the 1990s in romantic comedies. This movie is nothing like those. It's got to be one of the grittiest movies of 2018. There were scenes that made me feel as if I was on pins and needles. It's far from the year's greatest movie, but the roughness alone makes it worth seeing.

In the end, the movie's message seems to be that parents must love their children, no matter how low the latter sink. At the very least, they should make an effort to do so. I hope that Hedges keeps turning out movies like this one.
2 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Roberts is a superb mom in a difficult story.
TxMike27 April 2019
My wife and I watched this movie at home, on BluRay from our public library.

Being quite old, I have had the pleasure of watching Julia Roberts "grow up" on screen, in roles that have evolved from romantic fluff to hard core mother of a troubled and addicted son. In this role is superb, she makes the story and dangers feel very real.

Her son Ben has been in a rehab facility for his drug addiction, right before Christmas in a New York community he shows up unexpectedly. He explains that he has been doing so well that his counselor told him he could go. We soon find out that wasn't true and Ben was far from weaned from his destructive habits. What ensues also involves some of the dealers and customers he had business with before, and the mother of a young girl who died with him.

It is a timely movie, with the widespread issues with addictive drug use. It is often difficult to watch but tells a worthwhile story.
2 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
What a captivating and engrossing film
Gordon-1123 February 2019
This film tells the story of a teenager who goes back home from rehab for Christmas.

The story is really good, because it completely captivates and touches me. I find every part of me rooting for the characters at the end of the film. Tears fall regularly. The most amazing thing is that, even given the dark subject matter, the film manages not to feel sombre or depressing. I find myself lost in thoughts after the film, trying to feel the characters' hopes, dreams and pain. I think this film is a must see.
1 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
falters after a strong start
ferguson-67 December 2018
Greetings again from the darkness. So many families have been thrown into turmoil due to a loved one's drug addiction. Count writer/director Peter Hedges among those, so know this is more than just another film for him ... it's personal. Mr. Hedges previous work includes the underrated PIECES OF APRIL (2003) and DAN IN REAL LIFE (2007), as well as an Oscar nomination for his ABOUT A BOY (2002) screenplay. This time out, he cast his own son Lucas in the titular role of Ben. It was a wise choice.

When your son is checked into drug rehab, and you pull up to your house on Christmas Eve and see him pacing in the front yard, should your first reaction be total joy or immense trepidation? Are you thrilled to see him or worried for your other 3 kids - each who is in the car with you? Such is the moment for Holly Burns (played by Julia Roberts). With excitement from her two youngest, and pleas of "no" from her teenage daughter Ivy (Kathryn Newton), Holly bolts from the car and embraces Ben (Lucas Hedges), her eldest and most self-destructive child.

What follows is the ultimate example of inner-conflict for both mother and son. Holly is simultaneously happy to see her son and apprehensive for his well-being and that of her family. Ben is putting up an "all is well" front, while carrying the guilt of lying through his teeth. This initial sequence is by far the most powerful segment of the movie, and adding punch to these scenes are Ms. Newton and Courtney B Vance as Holly's husband and Ben's stepfather. Lucas Hedges and Kathryn Newton are immensely talented and two of the fastest rising young stars. He was nominated for an Oscar for his performance in MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, and she is recognizable from her work on "Big Little Lies".

After such a strong beginning, the story falters quickly as it spreads outside of the family home. At the local shopping mall, mother Holly spews vicious venom at the doctor who first prescribed the pain killer for Ben's sports injury. She blames the now dementia-riddled doctor for ruining her son's life - it's an all too obvious and overblown moment of a parent needing to place the blame elsewhere. Soon after, we truly fly off the rails as mother and son treat us to a tour of the cities drug-related highlights. When the family dog goes missing, most people post on Facebook for help. Not this family. They hop into the car and revisit all the drug havens and dealers from Ben's past. Of course, we do get the obligatory drug recovery meeting where Ben's soliloquy praises his mother (she's in attendance) and shows remorse for his many sins.

Every parent will understand the desperate feeling of mother Holly here or father David (Steve Carell) in BEAUTIFUL BOY, a similar-themed movie released earlier this year. We are also familiar with the deceptive and often dangerous actions of addicts, even those who were raised in our home. So while we are flexible in our judgement of Holly, Ms. Roberts' performance is just too showy and over-the-top here, though she'll likely be lauded for a dramatic role with only minimal dependence on her usual acting quirks. The first third of the movie is outstanding, however the rest comes across as an attempt to create intense drama when there's already plenty.
42 out of 58 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Mother battles her son's addiction
phd_travel10 March 2019
A drug addict who should be at rehab comes home for Christmas. His mom keeps watch on him. There are some interesting situations that keep this different. Liked the part she told off the doctor for getting her son hooked on painkillers. Not many movies about mother son bonding so it's interesting.

Lucas Hedges is the actor of choice for troubled youth and he doesn't disappoint. Julia Roberts is pretty here and looks younger than recent movies. She is quite moving as the mom trying to help her son fight addiction. The family involvement is also touching. Worth a watch.
0 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Insights into drug addiction in an impressive cinematic exploration
gradyharp11 March 2019
Peter Hedges (About a Boy, Pieces of April, What's Eating Gilbert Grape) both wrote and directed this excellent film and in doing so alerts us to the rising problems with the opioid pandemic that continues to grow in both our youth and adult population. The problem is exceptionally disturbing: the film captures that, and in doing so offers some of the finest writing and acting of the past year.

The plot follows the charming yet troubled Ben Burns (Lucas Hedges), who returns home to his unsuspecting family one fateful Christmas Eve. Ben's wary mother Holly Burns (Julia Roberts) welcomes her beloved son's return, but soon learns he is still very much in harm's way. During the 24 hours that may change their lives forever, Holly must do everything in her power to avoid the family's downfall. The family is biracial, a strong addition to the impact of the film, with Courtney B. Vance as Ben's stepfather Neal - Ben and Ivy (Kathryn Newton) are by Holly's first marriage while Lacey (Mia Fowler) and Liam (Jakari Fraser) are the product of her marriage to Neal. The cast also includes excellent cameos by David Zaldivar, Rachel Bay Jones, Alexandra Park and others.

The impact of the film is extraordinary: Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges (whose father is Peter Hedges!) bring credibility to the roles of the mother son relationship, including the hope and perseverance of belief that allows us to understand the mindset of drug addiction better than any film to this date. Why these two exceptional performances were overlooked at Oscar time begs explanation.

BEN IS BACK solidifies the importance of Lucas Hedges as an actor of immense stature. This is one of last year's finest motion pictures, with a very important insight to a major problem. Highly Recommended.
1 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Heeeeee's Baaaaaaack!!!
lavatch10 March 2019
Warning: Spoilers
The best scene in this film is a quiet moment in a shopping mall when Julia Roberts' character Holly Burns-Beeby sits down and has a subdued conversation with a local doctor. It turns out that the doctor had provided pain killers to Holly's son Ben, who became addicted and is presently in recovery after nearly suffering a fatal overdose. Holly recognizes that the doctor is now suffering from dementia, and she points to her son, reminding the doctor that he had once treated him. She then suddenly turns on a dime and switches to a different mode of being, telling the doctor, "I hope you die a horrible death."

The scene in the mall conveys all that it is right and all that is wrong with the film "Ben is Back." In the commentary track of the DVD, the film's director, Peter Hedges, discussed that part of his motivation in making the film was to explore the reasons for the current heroin-opioid crisis. But the scene with Holly and the doctor seemed excessive in that there is blame to go around to multiple parties (government, pharmaceuticals, physicians, and, in this case, perhaps even Holly herself) for the drug crisis. And, surely, the perceptive Holly was aware that this physician was already dying a horrible death.

Throughout the film, there was a maniacal energy on the part of young Ben Burns. When he returns home, the first reaction of his sister is that of revulsion. It would appear that he had wreaked havoc on his family and the town by selling drugs to support his addiction. A young woman named Maggie died from the drug transactions she made with Ben. The character of the mother Holly was a super control freak, and it was difficult to believe that she would not have been aware that her son was mixed up selling and using the drugs.

The agreement that Ben makes with Holly is that he will spend one day at home as a trial during the Christmas holidays. If he breaks his promise not to use drugs, then he must return to the rehab center for which the family has taken out a second mortgage to pay for his recovery.

Of course, Ben lies to Holly from the outset. He gets a hold of drugs that he had stashed in the attic. And, after the family home is vandalized and the dog stolen, he and Holly race out into the night to try to recover the dog. They become separated, and Ben takes a walk down memory lane with his former drug associates. Holly once again would appear to be enabling her son, doling out money and even her necklace to him, instead of going to the police.

The melodrama was excessive, and some of the scenes nearly turned into farce during the mad dash through the city, such as a stopover at the home of Ben's high school history teacher, who apparently was one of Ben's sources of drugs.

Despite the good performances, "Ben is Back" did not work as a social consciousness film. Such platitudes as "It works if you work it," were uttered with apparent conviction by Ben. But everyone recognized that he was living the lie and should be back in rehab. For the Burns-Beeby family, this was truly a Christmas not to remember.
0 out of 1 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
In the current spate of young-men-in-addiction, this one reveals the horror at home better than any other treatment.
jdesando18 December 2018
In the many treatments of troubled young men this year (Boy Erased, Beautiful Boy, Burning, to name ones I'm aware of), Ben is Back is the most affecting. Ben (Lucas Hedges) has bolted from his rehab clinic to spend time with his loving family. Although the film devolves into a quasi-thriller, the first half or so depicts with alarming clarity what it means to have a heroin addict in the house, even for a day. It's hell.

His Mom, Holly (Julia Roberts), is the one most acutely aware about hiding anything that her son might use to get off the wagon. Holly is one of the strong women characters for this year, reminding that Roberts has the chops to pull of a heavily dramatic role, as she did in Erin Brockovich and August: Osage County. Hedges, like Roberts, gives a performance of his much shorter lifetime.

The household stress is shifted when Ben's pet dog is stolen for ransom to lure him back into the dealer game. Director Peter Hedges (father of Lucas) has mom and son searching for the dog but also for a connection that can erase Ben's addiction. Finding the dog is the action to make the film come alive and to show the audience the scary world of drug dealers.

By moving the action to the search outside the home, Hedges has lost the demanding drama of family adjustment including the teen sister, Ivy (Kathryn Newton), the two younger siblings, and the tough-love Dad, Neal (Courtney B. Vance). The world of dealers we have seen before, but such a slice of upper-middle class turmoil has been too infrequently portrayed. Even Beautiful Boy didn't involve the audience as much as Ben is Back does.

By adding the dealer turn of the screw, Hedges has revealed the convoluted and pain-giving world of addiction, now planted firmly in homelife, where even the streets must compete for tragedy and despair. Although Ben is Back has formulaic elements and an unfortunate clustering with other young-men lost films this year, it stands alone in revealing the horror addiction unleashes at home
21 out of 28 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Well done drama film of despair, danger, addiction, love, and connection.
blanbrn15 January 2019
"Ben Is Back" is one family drama film that deals with love, family, and addiction in a tense and well fought way. Set over the span of 24 hours on Christmas Eve Ben Burns(Lucas Hedges) returns home to his mother Holly(Julia Roberts) and her new family trying to find some comfort and escape from his battle with drugs, only the demons prove to be a tough fight as it's a journey and adventure that involves drug dealers and a search and seek mission for all involved. Clearly the pain and emotions are felt with all involved as it proves that family, connection, and love is the best medicine when fighting the demons of substance abuse.
0 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Well acted but otherwise second-rate.
MOscarbradley14 December 2020
Despite excellent performances from Julia Roberts, (frantically worried mom), and Lucas Hedges, (drug-addicted son), "Ben is Back" is unlikely to be thought of as one of the better movies about addiction, opting for the thriller route rather than going down the social conscience road, (setting it over Christmas doesn't help either; sentimentality is never far away). It it, then, a reasonably thin piece written and directed by Hedges' father, Peter, presumably as a vehicle for his extremely talented son who doesn't disappoint. Indeed were it not for Hedges Jr. and Roberts this would be no better than a half-decent made-for-tv thriller. If they don't actually redeem the picture at least they give it a much needed lift. Still, only tolerable at best.
0 out of 0 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
A Tale of Two Halves
ThomasDrufke30 December 2018
In the year of Boy Erased, Beautiful Boy, and Ben is Back, there was no shortage of young adult males going through a serious emotional, physical, or mental crisis. All good films in their own right, and I think Ben is Back is more of a great representation of acting talent than it is a great film. Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges play great off each other and in a less-packed year, perhaps they could be nominated for an Academy Award. The film does unfortunately feel like a tale of two halves as the last hour turns into a crime drama while the first half is a pure emotional drama, with the latter clearly being superior. For as invested as you become into their relationship as a mother/son, I was hoping for a little bit more closure than what we received. The film just kind of ends without much resolution and it just felt strange. Alas, it's a tour de force for both of these actors, even if the end product is far less than its parts.

2 out of 6 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Excessively Melodramatic
westsideschl16 September 2019
Excessively melodramatic to the point it strained credulity (i.e. not too believable). Acting, too, overly dramatic. Predictable family issues. Not predictable, and laughably so, was the cute little doggy theft (I see why they didn't cast a pit bull for that role.). Sorry, so predictable throughout I had to save some life & ff through most of it. I have seen so many AA type meetings in movies, all saying the same thing, I feel like a member.
2 out of 5 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
and a merry christmas too all, except........
ops-5253525 February 2019
Everybody on the other side of the bridge. yes it is a x-mas movie, but not with the x-mas spirits that we expect. its a haunting movie about a misguided young man whos been oxycodonising his life, and his mothers fight to help him stay away from the happy pill, and have him back as he used to be. its a truefull and sentimentalizing drama that will hit everyone who has had the addictive problem themselves, have some in the family or knows anybody struggling this war .

to me it resembeles the situation in my childhood with one of my near relatives,and it really opened an old wound from the past,ending up in a big lump in my throat.they say that holyday-season is the worst time for the outcast and lonely members of society, and especially x-mas ,with gifts and money in an envelope,that may boost an already dire situation of addiction. so beware, and take care, just be cautious what care you give.....this is difficult to elaborate in english so ill stop here.

as a film product it is flawless on the timeline and editing, the story are well written,the use of silence inbetween, mixed with invigorating musical moments really engulfs you by what happens on the screen. i also admire the way the director ends this film,exactly at the same moment as i said'' stopp nå'', were its kinda happy moment with a tiny straw of hope to clinch onto, and might even open up for a sequel to ben is back.

the acting by Lucas Hedges, Julia Roberts, and Kathryn Newton are brilliant. the magic behaviour of mr hedges are so true and excact, so i start to think if he have tried the oxys himself. its just spooky to watch, and only few can do this as he does in this film.....and he is still so young!

as the old grumpy man i am, i still remember the nasty feeling after watching christiane F. in the early 80's, its tough its heavy its raw, and so are ben is back too. highly recommended.
0 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Intense, Emotional, Family-Driven Look At Drug Abuse
zkonedog1 January 2019
Drug abuse is a horrible thing. Not only does it wreak havoc on the individual under its power, but also family members caught in the collateral damage of conflicting emotions. Those themes are what "Ben Is Back" is all about.

For a basic plot summary, this movie sees Ben (Lucas Hedges), a drug addict, suddenly return home from his treatment facility on Christmas Eve. Mother Holly (Julia Roberts) is elated to see him, while step-father Neal (Courtney B. Vance) and sister Ivy (Kathryn Newton) are much more wary of the chaos that Ben's arrival could bring. The situation complicates, of course, when Ben's old gang discovers he is back in town, creating chaos for all involved and forcing a series of difficult decisions to be made.

The hallmark of this film is the array of internal conflicts it sets up between the characters when Ben inexplicably show up. Based on certain reactions, the audience knows that Ben has a sordid previous history with these people and in this location, but none of that is explicitly discussed right away. In a stroke of genius, the filmmakers instead set up those differing reactions and then slowly reveal why they might color expectations of Ben.

What this does is create a tension-filled scenario in which motives wildly differ for everyone on the screen in terms of how they relate to Ben. The mother wants to support him at nearly all costs, the step-father advises caution at every turn, the sister is intensely distrustful of everything he does, and the step-siblings just love having their enigmatic step-brother around. The top-notch acting really helps this play out, as each actor is very believable in his/her cause. This is especially true with Hedges, who lands perfectly between "he seems sincere" and "something is brewing", and Roberts, who is always top-notch.

At the end of the day, then, I view "Ben Is Back" as a very emotional look at the devastating effect that addiction can have not only on the person struggling with it, but also the family members or friends around them. Taken as simply "the story of Ben", this would be a middling effort (if still an emotional one). Add in all the different character angles, however, and this becomes a gripping drama in which viewers will be wondering what their responses to the situations unfolding would be.
1 out of 3 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Anchored by two strong leads, Ben is Back is a solid and confronting drama
eddie_baggins30 July 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 daughter 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
2 out of 2 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Excellent performance, great topic, but overall an underwhelming story
Top_Dawg_Critic20 February 2019
Writer/director Peter Hedges did a better job on his 4th directorial film than he did with his story. The 103 min length was decent, but the pacing felt really slow and lacked any luster or peaks in its screenplay. The message was strong and powerful, but I think it was under-emphasized and too typical to get a powerful message across, well, powerfully. The casting was great and all performances were very convincing. This film is certainly a must see to open the eyes of society on how addition can destroy many lives, not just the person addicted. Would I recommend it? Yes. Would I see it again? No, it lacked that luster and oomph for me to want to see it again. It's a 7/10 from me.
36 out of 45 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
"Ben Is Back" vs. "Beautiful Boy": and the winner is...
paul-allaer22 December 2018
"Ben Is Back" (2018 release; 103 min.) brings the story of Ben and his family. As the movie opens, it is Christmas Eve and Holly is watching her kids at their church choir practice. Upon returning home, Holly is stunned to see her son Ben waiting for them. It turns out Ben has been in rehab, but left the rehab place so as to spend Christmas with his family. Holly's teenage daughter (and Ben's sister) Ivy thinks this is a huge mistake. "This time it will be different', Holly tells her. When Holly's husband (and Ben's stepdad) Neal comes home, he insists that Ben must return to his rehab. After arguing, Holly and Neal compromise: Ben can stay for 24 hrs. but Holly will be with him every waking second... At this point we are less than 15 min. into the movie but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.

Couple of comments: this is the latest movie from writer-director Peter Hedges ("The Odd Life of Timothy Green"). Here he delves into a topic that is getting much attention these days: a parent dealing with their son's addiction. The entire movie plays out over that 24 hrs. period that Ben shows up out of the blue. The big news is of course that Hedges cast his (Oscar-nominated) son Lucas Hedges as the addict. This is the 3rd movie in a span of 2 months I've seen starring Lucas Hedges: "Mid90s", "Boy Erased" and now this. He truly is one of the up-and-coming talents in Hollywood. But even better is Julia Roberts as his mom Holly. She perfectly conveys the sense of terror and desperation as she tries to keep control of the situation. "We can't save them, but you'll hate yourself if you don't try", comments a woman who lost her daughter to addiction. Which leads me to that other recent movie about the very same topic, albeit brought in a dramatically different way: "Beautiful Boy", starring Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet. When comparing these two films, the shortfalls of "Ben Is Back" become evident very quickly, in particular in the movie's last 45 min. when there are questionable plot holes the size of Manhattan for no apparent reason. In the end, "Ben Is Back" still is worth checking out for the strong performances of Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges. Kathryn Newton (as Ben's sister Ivy) also does quite well. But let's be clear: "Beautiful Boy" is the better movie.

"Ben Is Back" premiered at this year's Toronto International Film Festival to good acclaim. It finally opened this weekend at my local art-house theater here in Cincinnati, and I couldn't wait to see it. The Friday early evening screening where I saw this at was attended poorly (6 people, including myself). I honestly can't see this playing in theaters very long. For that the movie is too downbeat, even more so considering that we are in the Christmas-New Year's holidays. Maybe this will find a wider audience once it expands onto other platforms (and away from the year-end holidays). Either way, I encourage you to check it out, be it in the theater, on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.
17 out of 28 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Addict Home For Christmas
stevendbeard13 January 2019
Warning: Spoilers
I saw "Ben is Back", starring Julia Roberts-Money Monster, Valentine's Day; Lucas Hedges-Lady Bird, Labor Day; Courtney B. Vance-The Mummy_2017, Space Cowboys and Kathryn Newton-Big Little Lies_tv, Lady Bird. This is a movie about a drug addicted boy coming home for Christmas. Lucas plays the addict, Julia and Courtney are his parents and Kathryn is his sister. It's Christmas Eve when Lucas shows up on his family's doorstep, saying that his sponsor gave him the OK. After everything Lucas has done in the past-to support his drug habit-nobody trusts him. Julia hides things-prescription drugs, jewelry,etc-and tells Lucas that she is going to be by his side during his entire visit. She even goes to the bathroom with him. She also gives him drug tests. Lucas tells her that everything is fine and he is clean and sober. But, is he? In case you don't know, drug addicts lie. It is a dilemma. I guess this would be interesting to people having their own close experiences with drug addicts but I didn't care for it that much. It's rated "R" for language and drug use and has a running time of 1 hour & 43 minutes. It's not one that I would buy on DVD. Unless you are more interested in the subject matter than I was, I would wait for it to come to cable tv.
7 out of 14 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Ben Is Back
JoBloTheMovieCritic20 July 2019
6/10 - an often times infuriating tale of a teenage drug addict that features a fabulously heartbreaking performance from Julia Roberts
0 out of 0 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
dar041714 February 2020
I get it but do we really need more films about the same thing over and over again.
1 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Yet another impressive movie about drug addiction.
peterp-450-29871614 June 2019
Here's the deal, and it is not negotiable. You get a day.

Films about addictions and the destructive effect on family life and personal well-being. I have a hard time dealing with it. "Beautiful Boy" made a crushing impression on me recently. I was thrown off balance after watching it. An emotional fight by a father trying to save his son from a world full of self-destructive chemical junk. An impressive spectacle about hope and second chances. Maybe "Ben is back" is not a similar film on the whole. But nonetheless, I looked at it again in a depressing way and a not so pleasant memory came up again. "Ben is back" certainly isn't a bad film but doesn't reach the same level as "Beautiful Boy". Unfortunately, they decided halfway to turn the social drama into a drug-related thriller. Dealing (pun not intended) with drug addiction was replaced by settings things straight with some drug dealers. In other words, Ben's world from the past.

Here it's not a father who serves as a rock in the raging surf. Holly (Julia Roberts) remains Ben's refuge. She still has hope in the recovery of her son Ben (Lucas Hedges). And then suddenly her son shows up with Christmas. A complete surprise since he normally would stay over in rehab during the holidays. Ben has been there for several months and thanks to his sponsor he seems to be able to leave the addictive stuff behind him. And mother Holly is positive. Nevertheless, all medicines and valuable things are removed quickly. Apparently, confidence has not yet been fully restored.

And also stepfather Neal (Courtney B. Vance) doesn't trust him. So he imposes a veto. Ben is allowed to stay with them for 24 hours, but only if mother Holly keeps a close eye on him for the entire period. A veto that provides the most exciting part of the film. The interaction between mother and son. Endearing and moving at moments. Fairly confronting and painful at other times. Like the scene at the cemetery where Molly points out how destructive his life is. He can even choose a spot as his last resting place. Or the conversation between Molly and the retired doctor who prescribed pain killers to Ben in the past. Two scenes imbued with anger and despair. And all thanks to the addictive stuff Ben was hooked on. Something he wants to get rid of if you listen to his monologue during an NA meeting. In my eyes the most emotional moment.

Naturally, the interpretations of Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges are the ones that get the most attention. And although I'm not such a Julia Roberts fan, I still found her acting impressive and convincing. An emotional roller coaster squeezed into one day. And Roberts plays this tormented but sometimes tough mother in a solid and realistic way. Lucas Hedges also plays his role as the former drug addict in a brilliant way. The moment he bursts into tears during "Silent Night" in the church, will leave no one untouched. But Courtney B. Vance and Kathryn Newton also deserve some praise.

And yet this movie didn't impress me as much as "Beautiful Boy". Purely and simply because they've not only chosen to create a captivating emotional family drama, but also to make a standard drugs-related thriller of it. The moment the dog disappeared, it immediately reminded me of "Once upon a time in Venice" where gang leader Jason Momoa kidnapped Bruce Willis's dog. The search of Ben and his mother is a quest full of popular attractions from Ben's drug history. The key question in the second part is whether Ben is able to resist the temptation. And despite the excessive melodrama at the end, it's still an exquisite film that conclusively demonstrates how destructive drugs can be. This film should be included in the educational curriculum of secondary schools. Together with "Beautiful Boy" it shows in a realistic way how disastrous your life can be. No drug campaign can match this!
0 out of 1 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Plays it Safe, but Still Pretty Good
truemythmedia14 May 2019
Addiction is a hell of a thing, it's disastrous, and crippling it's something that needs to be handled with a tender but exact hand in an entertainment context. Peter Hedges ("What's Eating Gilbert Grape?") executes the direction in an admirable, but ultimately too safe way. While addiction is a very sensitive theme, in needs to be viscerally engaging as well as morally engaging. "Ben is Back" hits the morals hard, but it just lacks the the imagery this sort of film needs, it's relatable in a family context, it shows how harrowing and heart wrenching this can be for a family. What it doesn't show is just how violent and disturbing something like heroin addiction can be. If this film had a touch of the raw intensity "A Requiem for a Dream'" had then this could have been a top tier addiction film. And while it's not nearly as sappy as the likes of "Beautiful Boy" it falls right in the middle, not knowing quite what it needs to be.
0 out of 1 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
An intense family drama
nancyldraper28 December 2018
Intense family drama. Julia Robert's is at her finest and It seems Lucas Hedges can do no wrong (he's already won the Los Angeles On-line Film Critic's Society award for Best Performance by an actor 23 years of age or under). The subject matter is gritty and confined to a 24 hour period. The ending is abrupt and we are left to finish the story ourselves (did the writer not know how to resolve the questions he was addressing?). All the supporting performances were appropriately powerful/poignant (Kathryn Newton is a bit of a standout). As a point of interest, Lucas is being directed by his dad. I give this film a 7 (good with some great performances) out of 10. {Drama}
1 out of 4 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
Just Don't Bother Watching This Tripe!
martimusross18 March 2019
I am at a loss as to understand what the director and script writer were trying to tell us over and above that a mother loves her son. The plot was so fatally flawed with errors and actions taken by the characters without sufficient motivation.

Ultimately is was just a mish-mash of jumbled thoughts and contrivances that reached no conclusion or redemption and proved most frustrating for the viewer.

I was going to go into details about the plot flaws, the failure to contact the sponsor, the strange dog kidnap etc etc but it's really not worth it.

Both Lucas Hedges and Julie Roberts threw their all into this project but you just cannot make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

Conclusion avoid this melodramatic drivel as it's fails on every front to either educate, entertain or inform.
2 out of 5 found this helpful. Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.
An error has occured. Please try again.

See also

Awards | FAQ | User Ratings | External Reviews | Metacritic Reviews

Recently Viewed