They remade Beautiful Boy already?!
All of that to say that a movie about drugs that stars Lucas Hedges was only a matter of time.
Ben is Back is a new film from director Peter Hedges, Lucas’ father and creator of the now iconically famous The Odd Life of Timothy Green.
Granted, I’ve never actually seen The Odd Life of Timothy Green, but the reputation for how weird that movie precedes itself. I’ve seen enough clips on YouTube to know that’s one strange, strange film that I don’t mind having past on.
That’s not the case with Ben is Back, though.
Holly Burns (Julia Roberts) is driving her children — Ivy (Kathryn Newton of Blockers), Lacey (Mia Fowler) and Liam (Jakari Fraser) — from pageant rehearsal on Christmas Eve when she first notices the unexpected visitor waiting for them in the driveway.
That unexpected visitor, of course, is her other son Ben (Hedges).
It’s been a number of months since Holly has seen her son. Since the age of 14, Ben has struggled with drug addiction and has been in and out of different rehabs across the country.
Now, he’s come home once again and Holly couldn’t be any happier.
The rest of the family, however, has their reservations. While Lacey and Liam might be too young to understand, Ivy and her step-dad, Neal Beeby (Courtney B. Vance), can remember all the past Christmases that Ben’s addiction and reckless behavior has ruined.
Ben assures everyone that it’s different this time, though, which Holly might be a little too quick to believe. He’s been clean for 77 days with no intention of stopping now and has the full support of his sponsor.
So, he’s allowed to stay, under the condition that it’s only for 24 hours and that he doesn’t leave Holly’s sight in that time.
That doesn’t actually happen, of course, as things still find a way to all go to hell.
To be fair, it isn’t directly Ben’s fault this time. He and Holly are Christmas shopping in the mall when they run into his childhood friend turned junkie, Spencer “Spider” Webb (David Zaldivar), who then begins spreading the word to everyone and anyone that Ben is back.
When Ben’s former dealer, Clayton (Michael Esper), hears this news and realizes that Ben still owes him money, it’s all over.
Ben goes A-WOL to try to fix the situation before his family becomes Clayton’s targets, but Holly can’t just let him go off on his own like that, either. Apart from it being an overall dangerous situation, she also knows that Ben is going to be exposed to some heavy drugs and that he could fall into remission all too easily.
Even when typing that synopsis, Ben is Back still sounds like a cheesy, made-for-TV kind of movie. The trailers did nothing but re-enforce that idea, for me at least, as I really wasn’t expecting a lot out of this one despite some of the positive reviews I read.
Having now seen it, you can count me as one of the positive ones.
To be fair, the moments that were cheesy in the trailer are still cheesy in the movie, and then some. That speech that Julia Roberts gives at a cemetery comes out of nowhere and is even more over-the-top than they initially made it out to be.
Yet, as a whole, Ben is Back is a lot more willing to have an open, honest discussion about these topics than I thought it might be. I see a lot of personal attachment here from Peter Hedges showing both sides of this equation — how drug addiction affects not only the user, but also their family and the entire surrounding community.
Granted, I don’t necessarily buy the fact that Ben is somehow able to run into literally everyone from his past life within the 24 hours that he’s home (on Christmas Eve and in New York, nonetheless), but the fact that Ben is Back really doesn’t gloss over those interactions and some of the ugly ramifications they have is something I found oddly refreshing.
For example: there’s a scene in which Holly and Ben sit down inside a diner and discuss one of Ben’s friends who recently OD-ed. Ben feels guilty about it since he sold her drugs, and rightfully so, but it’s Holly who takes a step back and is able to look at the other side.
“How did you want to her to feel?” she asks (paraphrasing because the script isn’t available anywhere online. “Did you want her to feel bad? Or did you sell them to her because you thought they felt good and you wanted her to feel good?”
“They made me feel loved,” he responds. “More than you or anyone else ever could. I wanted her to feel that.”
“There you go.”
It’s a controversial take, without the doubt, but I give mad props to Peter Hedges and the screen-writers for including an opinion like that in their film.
Lucas Hedges and Julia Roberts also deserve recognition for their work as well, because they’re both really quite good in the film. Both of their performances might run the line of being somewhat Oscar-baity during the film’s more dramatic moments (especially Roberts’), but I still bought the chemistry and bond that was established between the two of them.
Right up until the final sixty seconds of Ben is Back, that is.
The more I think about it, the more I really don’t like the ending. They set up a really interesting and intense climax that had every opportunity to end at a perfect place — only for the film to add an extra scene that they really didn’t need.
Without spoiling anything, the last shot of the film should have been Julia Roberts walking into that barn, unsure of what she’s going to find (which is the moment when I started tearing up). Having the film continue by giving us an answer to that question — and, worse yet, an answer that suggests a certain kind of ending but then has absolutely no wrap-up — undoes a lot of what was being set-up earlier on.
That being said, I’m pleased to say that Ben is Back leans more towards the side of being the movie I’d hoped it be rather than the one I feared it could easily become. Flawed, yes, but impressively well thought-out and acted nonetheless.
Watch the trailer for Ben is Back here and then let us know, in the comments below, what you thought of the film!
'Ben is Back' - Better than I wanted to admit [REVIEW]7