Ben is Back: Film Review

Ben is Back comes out in the UK just two months after Beautiful Boy, another drama which follows a 20-something drug addict and their relationship with a parent, so you would be forgiven for wondering if it’s worth a watch as well – and I’m here to tell you that it is.

Lucas Hedges stars as Ben, a recovering drug addict who has been sober for 77 days, who returns home from his sober living facility for an unexpected visit for Christmas. His mum Holly (Julia Roberts) and stepdad Neal (Courtney B. Vance) allow him to stay for 24 hours and his sobriety is tested by many temptations from his past.

Although the themes of Ben is Back and Beautiful Boy are the same and there are some similarities in the son-parent relationship, Ben is Back has a much stronger, tighter narrative and focus. I like that it focuses on that 24-hour period and doesn’t resort to flashbacks to illustrate Ben’s dark past, but slowly reveals everything we need to know throughout the movie thanks to a clever script by writer/director Peter Hedges. It is clear, linear and straightforward and I appreciated that. Films are just trying to overcomplicate themselves these days.

The narrative of an addict trying to get clean is a well-worn one but this stands out because of the writing and the terrific performances by Roberts, Hedges and Kathryn Newton as Ben’s sister Ivy. The relationships are crystal clear from the beginning and it is so interesting watching them take shape. It did start to lag and lose its way a little during the search sequence but that’s a minor issue.

I wanted to do an eye roll at Hedges being cast in his dad’s film but he is so good in everything he’s in and Ben is Back is no exception. Ben is struggling, on the brink of relapse and doesn’t want to hurt his family anymore. Despite being warned otherwise by her husband and daughter, Holly has hope in her son and a belief that he will remain clean during his stay – but that faith is also tested. Roberts was incredible and she made me cry so hard. I love her and she kills me whenever she cries. Holly got so desperate and my heart went out to her.

Ben is Back is not a “fun” movie but it’s really damn good. I could have easily watched another 10 minutes which is high praise from the girl always calling for shorter films. That speaks for itself. Go see.

In selected cinemas Friday 15th March 

(Rating: 4/5)

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