TIFF 2018: Ben is Back

Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges in BEN IS BACK. Photo credit: Mark Schafer. Courtesy of LD Ent./Roadside Attractions.

Ben is Back delivers with a strong focus on a family as they welcome back their drug-addicted son home for the holidays.

There’s a strong emotional reaction to be had as one watches Holly Burns (Julia Roberts) as her eldest son, Ben (Lucas Hedges) comes home for the holidays.  As much as she hopes for the best as he makes a surprise appearance, she requires some pre-conditions for his return.  Even if it’s just for a day, there are rules to be followed on his part.  The first of which is that Ben not only takes a drug test but he must be within her sight at all times.  This means that Holly will be sleeping in Ben’s room.

Watching her son become addicted to drugs and nearly died has left a strong effect on Holly.  The trust isn’t all the way there.  As her eldest daughter, Ivy (Kathryn Newton) distracts Ben, Holly hides all the pills.  Even if Holly wants to think that Sober Living has helped Ben in recovery, she’s still concerned that he could relapse.  As we learned in the similar-themes but less-linear Beautiful Boy, relapse is a part of the recovery process.

No mother should have to go through these trials. but Holly does and credit goes to Julia Roberts for such a strong performance that captures all of the emotions.  Lucas Hedges, who once said he would never appear in his dad’s films, is phenomenal.  We don’t just watch how Ben’s drug problems affect his mom but also sister Ivy, step-father Neal Beeby (Courtney B. Vance), and younger half-siblings, Lacey (Mia Fowler) and Liam Burns-Beeby (Jakari Fraser).

This film is beautifully directed by Peter Hedges.  The way the film is told is one that will surely provoke some strong emotions.  Rather than tell the story over a period of days or even years, Hedges sticks to a 24 hour period.  It makes for a strong and captivating story.  This is the way it should be.  Of the two films with a similar theme, this is the stronger film.  As unfortunate as it is, it’s inevitable that the two will be compared.  It’s not right but it is what it is.

This story is a personal one for Hedges, whose niece almost died to a drug overdose.  It shows in the film.  There’s a lot of care in making sure the story gets told in the right way.  For what it’s worth, Roberts and the younger Hedges are essentially perfect.

With the cast capturing the emotions of seeing a loved one struggling with addiction, Ben is Back tackles the subject in a compelling manner.

DIRECTOR/SCREENWRITER:  Peter Hedges
CAST:  Julia Roberts, Lucas Hedges, Courtney B. Vance, Kathryn Newton, and Michael Esper

Ben is Back held its world premiere at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival in the Special Presentation program.  LD Entertainment, Lionsgate, and Roadside Attractions will open Ben is Back in theaters on December 7, 2018.

 

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.

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