Ben Is Back (2018)
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The film is about Ben, who recently returns home having been sober for 77 days. His mom wants to give him the benefit of the doubt although she is weary about whether he is using or not. Ben soon realizes that his old ways catch up to him and it causes a danger to his family. Ben tries to wrong the rights and fight off the temptation of the past, and his mom (played by Julia Roberts) strives to remain at his side to make sure that she doesn't lose her son.
I like the recent waves of films that are covering drug addiction. Working in that counseling field I see it daily and see what a problem it is. You can never be clear of your demons and relapse is a normality. I think Lucas Hedges has one of his strongest performances yet, not that that's a surprise because he's good in everything. Best Julia Roberts performance in a while as well, at least for me. Its a simple plot and takes place over the course of a day or so but its a deep story that engulfs you from the opening scene.
I don't know if this is going to get award season love but I'd like for it to get nominated for its original screenplay and some acting plaudits. Its easily identifiable, and the characters are strong and driven, a testament to the actors who commit to the performances. Wouldn't have minded this thing being 10-20 minutes longer because not a minute is wasted here.
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.
The writing and direction by Lucas' dad was pretty weak.
Julia Roberts married to a domineering black man, and driving her son around to drug dens? Get serious people.
Lucas willing to kill himself to rectify a drug dealer family dog-napping situation? Yes, you read that right.
Crime bosses that look like they could get beaten up by the residents of your local nursing home, who plot revenge for unpaid balances of less than $1,000 and yet are very sentimental and family oriented (refusing to except family jewelry for payment because it is just too special)?
A serial addict over-dosing on one hit?
Women walking up to Lucas and saying "you're hot!"? Knowing that this was written by his dad, that is one proud papa, not to mention slightly creepy.
Gay sex for drugs with your high-school teacher? If you want to go for shocking, you have to at least try to be original.
It goes on and on.
I was hoping for a great independent film about addiction, but this is not it. If you want to see that, watch Requiem for a Dream. It is everything this movie is not. Another option, but not as epic as Requiem, would be Beautiful Boy. I like Lucas, but Lucas Hedges v. Timothée Chalamet is no contest. It is an interesting comparison in that Lucas and his dad are trying desperately to get Lucas on the same career trajectory as Timothee (i.e., Timothee does Call me By Your Name and Lucas follows with Boy Erased, Timothee does Beautiful Boy and Lucas follows with Ben is Back). However, whereas Timothee always shocks with a mind-blowingly convincing performance, Lucas is just pretty good. Lucas really needs to find himself, be a little more humble, rely less on family connections, and stop chasing others.
All that said, I enjoyed the movie. Mainly because I find it fascinating to see what happens when you write a movie for your son. Just wait for it to be released on cable and realize it is grade B at best.
I found myself so bitterly angry and both Ben and Holly through the entirety of the movie. Holly, as the typical enabler, wants to blame everyone but Ben for his drug addiction.
It's the doctor's fault for prescribing him pain killers after his snowboarding accident. It's the history teacher's fault for giving him codeine and other pills. But when Maggie, Ben's childhood friend, whom he got addicted, dies, that's not Ben's fault.
In a sick and twisted quest to "save her baby boy" she puts herself and her entire family in danger. Forget her husband and three other children. Ben is all that matters.
And then, just when you're about as angry as you can be. The end.
Hope you weren't wanting any closure.
The first part of the movie is good in it's illustration of the chaos and disruption drug addiction has on a family when one of their own is addicted.
The story starts out strong but delves in to unbelievable scenarios such as when the addict son goes after the drug dealer after a break in and theft of the family pet.
Good acting by both Julie Roberts and Lucas Hedges.
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
Ben Is Back is an excellent movie. Writer-director Peter Hedges has given us an emotional, suspenseful & original story, which is very rare these days. The highlight of the film is the family dynamic, which has been portrayed beautifully. Julia Roberts is spectacular as Holly Burns. Lucas Hedges is outstanding as Ben Burns. Courtney B. Vance is great as Neal Beeby. Kathryn Newton is brilliant as Ivy Burns. Rachel Bay Jones, David Zaldivar & Michael Esper are superb as Beth Conyers, Spencer 'Spider' Webbs & Clayton, respectively. Mia Fowler & Jakari Fraser are adorable as Lacey Burns-Beeby & Liam Burns-Beeby, respectively. The supporting cast is impressive. Ben Is Back is a must watch. Go for it.
The Directing: Julia Roberts did a wonderful job portraying being a mom who loves so much about her children. She put in so much emotion. Unfortunately, the script wasn't that excellent. No scene was very memorable.
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.
Now, when I first saw this trailer a month ago, it was literally a fifteen second trailer of Ben's mother running into the arms of Ben, and then the trailer ended. I was kind of confused, and as the rest of the audience laughed, I couldn't help but give in to it, because the trailer was just kind of bad. I kept hearing about the film, and I finally found out the film was about drug abuse. As I kept scrolling through Letterboxd and IMDB, I found fairly average reviews. Still, I decided to take a chance and go see this film, because I love Lucas Hedges to death.
And I must say, for anyone who thinks this film is average or even worse, trash, I think you are incredibly wrong. Ben is Back is an incredible showcasing the struggles of drug abuse, even with long-term rehabilitation and therapy. This film reminded me of a dramatized version of the television show Intervention, which I loved as well. Now, along with showing Ben's temptation to going back into his drug habits, the film also showcases his relationship with his mother, played by Julia Roberts, who delivers an incredibly heartbreaking performance.
Now, let's talk about acting. I have followed Lucas Hedges for a number of films. From Manchester by the Sea, Lady Bird, Mid-90s, Boy Erased, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, I think Hedges has delivered his best performance in this film. It may not be the best performance in 2018, but I think it is the most human portrayal of a recovering addict, and Hedges completely nails it. Julia Roberts portrays Ben's mother, and she represents a loving, yet strong-willed and persistent mother who will do everything in her power to ensure her son does not get in the same habits again. Roberts is incredibly brilliant in her performance, and it reminds me of somebody in my family who has to deal with a recovering drug addict. Although I have never partook in drugs or been exposed to it, Ben is Back transcribed me into this horrific world of drug abuse, and I feel for all of these characters, from the son who just wants to stop making mistakes and the mother who just wants to see her son live another day.
The plot of this film is fairly simple at first glance, but as the film progresses, there are tons of layers that will uncover over time. The story is basically about Ben, after spending a couple of months in rehabilitation, deciding to fulfill his mother's wishes of coming home for Christmas Day. It comes as a big surprise to the family. However, his one day back home leads to an incredible amount of trauma, in regards to family dynamics, old drug abuse habits, old friendships, and reliving horrific memories. It was so traumatizing to watch all of this unfold, but I think it was all entirely realistic.
All in all, Ben is Back floored me and I ultimately think it is a masterpiece in cinema, as it totally unveils the harsh reality of drug abuse, and the struggle that many recovering addicts face today. This film broke me, and I left the theater sobbing uncontrollably. This is what cinema is all about, people. This is hands down, my favorite film of 2018.
Cheers to all of those who struggle with the aftermaths of drug abuse, or any other form of trauma.
PS: For all you ignorant and insensitive filmgoers who were laughing obnoxiously at every scene in this film, I sincerely regret your existence. You are the epitome of all of that is worthless in this already cruel world.
The whole thing looks like one of those films that was shot in 10 days. And everybody looks like they're trying way too hard to make it work. For me, it just didn't.
Ben is white. The film goes by the name of "Ben is Back", but the title's subtext and the title proper are practically interchangeable. Fentanyl, oxycodone, hydrocodone; they're all sheep in heroin's clothing.The sheepherders are both black and white. Opioids pull the dirty and matted wool over everybody's eyes. The recovering addicts at the drug support meeting are white. The junkies at the drug den are white. Holly is white; she's Ben's mother, but the father(Courtney B. Vance) is black. When Holly's second husband makes his first appearance the audience may need a moment to reorientate themselves. He is not Ben's parole officer, or sponsor, parts that normally get assigned to an Anglo-American male, the great white hope who will save the life of a black youth in trouble. "Half Nelson", directed by Ryan Fleck, stars Ryan Gosling, who plays an inner-city middle school teacher addicted to crystal meth. He mentors an African-American student, a drug dealer, without any self-awareness of the irony that he could use some mentoring himself. If "Half Nelson" deconstructs the filmic trope of the white savior, "Ben is Back" blows it up to smithereens. The filmmaker not only defies audience expectations with colorblind casting, he also tinkers around with gender roles. Vance is passive, as Neal, he plays the part of the worried wife, pacing around the house, waiting by the phone for good or bad news. Roberts is pro-active, as Holly, she plays the part of the heroic father, willing to die trying by any means necessary to keep her son safe from harm. It's "Training Day" for mom.
In between "Pieces of April" and "Ben is Back", Hedges directed "The Odd Life of Timothy Green", which tells the story of a plant-based child, a summer annual made corporeal, who crawls out from the womb of earth, one magical rainy night. Jennifer Garner and Joel Edgerton play a couple unable to conceive a child, so they pro-create with their imaginations. The Greens write down their invented son's characteristics on slips of paper and place them in a reliquary. The weird science works. Timothy is born. But how the filmmaker introduces the boy to his parents is of note. Timothy seems more monster than human, appearing as a shadowy apparition of indeterminate intentions, scaring Jim in the kitchen, then Cindy in the bedroom. Genre-wise, "The Odd Life of Timothy Green" starts off as a horror movie, bearing more than a passing resemblance to "Pet Semetary". The real horror, however, is just getting started. Like all summer annuals, the plant dies in autumn; Timothy dies in autumn, and there is nothing his parents can do about it. In "Ben is Back", the filmmaker cuts to the chase. There is only one kind of horror, the human spectacle of a life gone horribly wrong. This time, Holly gets lucky. "Ben is Back" ends on a happy note. Ben is indeed back. But in the sequel, he may not.
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.