Ben is Back (15) | Close-Up Film Review

Dir: Peter Hedges, US, 2018, 98 mins

Cast: Julia Roberts, Lucas Hedges, Courtney Vance, Kathryn Newton

Review by Carlie Newman

A sensitive, moving film – possibly over-dramatic at times – with lovely performances by Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges.

Julia Roberts plays Holly, the mother of four, two by her first husband and two with her present husband, Neal (Courtney Vance). While Holly is surprised but overjoyed at the sudden return of her 19-year-old son Ben (Lucas Hedges), who has come out of Rehab on Christmas Eve to spend Christmas with the family, she is concerned about whether he will be able to stay off drugs. Holly is on constant alert for signs of her son deviating from his clean regime.

Director Peter Hedges, who also wrote the screenplay, tells the story, which takes place all in one day, with careful construction showing the relationship between mother and son and the impact the drug addict has on the rest of the family. Holly decides that the only way to ensure her son stays away from drugs is to be with him constantly. Lucas finds this very constrictive and tries to break loose.

The first part of the film is built around the interaction between Holly and her son but then the movie develops into a kind of crime caper as Holly chases her son and his druggie contacts around the small town in upstate New York.

There’s a good little cameo from Kathryn Newton as Holly’s daughter. She, together with the stepfather, try to tell Holly that Ben is not to be trusted and they are sure that he will revert to his use of drugs.

Just one smile from Roberts and then we never glimpse her watermelon smile again. She gives a powerful performance which movingly conveys the anguish of a very loving mother confronted by her addicted son. Young Lucas Hedges is also excellent, carefully showing the deviousness of an addict but also his loving side as he plays with his two young half siblings.