The Burns-Beebe family is getting ready for Christmas celebration. The kids are going to take part in the Christmas show at Church, reason why they spend most of the day there, rehearsing, overseen by their mom, Holly. When they arrive home, they find Ben, the eldest kid, waiting for them outside. Ben is a drug addict. He used to be a drug dealer too, and he has been in rehab for the last few months since he O.D, his life having been saved by the family’s dog. His mother found him at death’s door. Now he is back just for Christmas day, to make right the mess that was last Christmas. Holly is cautiously ecstatic. The rest of the family, not so much.
When the family comes back from the Christmas Church service, they find out their house has been broken into and the dog is missing, but with so many low lives Ben has been involved with, which one could have done this? Over the next few hours, Ben and Holly will find out how far down the human scale they will have to go to find their dog, save the family, and get Ben’s life back.
Written, produced, and directed by Peter Hedges, Ben Is Back is a powerful punch to the gut, devastating, dark, and emotionally demanding cinematic ride. It has a running time of 1 hour and 43 minutes, starring Julia Roberts (Holly Burns), Lucas Hedges (Ben), Kathryn Newton (Ivy), and Courtney B. Vance (Neal).
Ben Is Back has a direct narrative that takes its audience on a 24-hours ride in which the quasi-normal life that this family deserves and has worked hard to achieve is upended when Ben comes back, unannounced and unexpectedly. The stark wintry landscape—snowy in an almost desolate town, saved for junkies and up-to-no-good people—is an outward manifestation of the emotional landscape this family is navigating. Ben’s mother, a heroine of sorts, is able to find, in another mother, a much-needed dose of honesty and the courage she needs to help her son crawl out of his present conundrum.
Nuancedly acted by Julia Roberts in the best dramatic turn of her career—remember that her turns in The Pelican Brief, Sleeping with the Enemy, Dying Young and Mary Reilly (See Julia Roberts’ Filmography, P-I and P-II) weren’t commercial darlings as were her romantic comedies—as Ben’s mother, she is the very depiction of duty, love and sacrifice. She hears things from Ben during those hours in the car that no mother should hear. To say that Julia Roberts interiorized her character and explored her depths, is an understatement, but I was rather captivated with Lucas Hedges’ performance all the more.Lucas Hedges has been making quiet waves lately for his movie roles, first in Manchester by the Sea, Lady Bird, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and this year’s Boy Erased, and Ben Is Back. As Ben, a repentant but not altogether out of the woods drug addict, Hedges is not only convincing but devastatingly powerful in a very subtle way. He is deceiving and capable of twisting his family’s love for him to his advantage. Lucas Hedges’ performance deserves to be appreciated and recognized. I would not be surprised if he were to garner nominations for Best Supporting Actor in the award shows still to come for his acting turn in Ben Is Back.