Ben is Back Review by Crystal Yakel-Kuntz
An unfortunately common story of drug addiction is told in a dramatic, less than 24-hour timespan in the film, Ben is Back. The film begins with a direction style that diametrically opposes sounds, a children’s choir singing and the crushing of snow underfoot, to create a cinematic divide to parallel the literal divide between the family Ben Burns (Lucas Hedges) left to participate in sober living. From nearly the moment Ben’s mother, Holly Burns (Julia Roberts), greets her son on his unannounced return home, the complexities of drug addiction and loving one’s family, begin to show their natural consequences.
Writer and director Peter Hedges, of What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? and About a Boy fame, brings his writer and directoring talents to the screen to direct his son Lucas Hedges in Ben is Back. Hedges uses several shots from moving vehicles in a way that immerses the audience in the tensions of the film’s plot and complex relationships.
The performances of Hedges and Roberts were powerful. Hedges delivers a performance that more than lives up to the wide acclaim he received for Manchester by the Sea, and in many ways, improves on that performance with an impactful, nuanced turn in Ben is Back. Roberts’s performance as Holly Burns allows her to display a deep, tenacious love of her son, and allows her to personify very clearly the complexities of a mother’s love through the tumult of caring for a child with drug addiction. Her acting is reminiscent of her convicted performances in Stepmom and Erin Brockovich.
These performances are strongest in scenes where the realities of drug addiction are laid bare. In one scene, Roberts forces Hedges to keep the door open to the bathroom while she administers a drug test. Roberts states, “Come on – pee pee time,” to which Hedges responds with humor, “Shut up.” The naturalistic delivery of these lines allows the film goer to see coalesced beauty and sadness in the relationship of mother and son, and is a great example of the chemistry the two actors share.
Ben is Back is a reminder to love our families in all their complexity, and to give ourselves grace as we interact with the world.
Ben is Back is now playing in theaters in Kansas City starting today December 21st. Watch the trailer here to prepare yourself for its emotionally charged plot and performances!