Review: Ben Is Back



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I’m not sure there is such a thing as a perfect movie, but this one is pretty darn close.  I’ve been waiting for someone to take a look at the opioid epidemic in film with this kind of lens; as a professional in behavioral health and addiction, I can confirm that the experiences of the characters in this movie is authentic and realistic to a haunting degree.

Lucas Hedges is “Ben,” a young man in recovery who has come home unexpectedly on Christmas Eve to see his family.  Julia Roberts is “Holly,” his mother, who is thrilled to see him even when other members of the family – and community at large – are not quite so welcoming.

The performances are quite lovely; even Hedges, who I have been quite critical of in the past (I thought his emotional breakdown in Manchester-By-The-Sea was forced and his portrayal of the boyfriend in Lady Bird fairly unbelievable), seems to have tapped into a range of emotions not seen from him.  But Roberts, who is probably my favorite movie star actress next to Meryl Streep, shows the pain, joy, despair, fear, and hope of a woman desperately trying to save and hold on to her child that I’ve seen from real people in my work.

The supporting cast is equally authentic, especially Courtney B. Vance as Ben’s stepfather, Kathryn Newtown as “Ivy,” the long-suffering “good girl” sister, and Rachel Bay Jones as “Beth,” another grieving mother who’s weary battlescars wear on her affect.

Writer/Director Peter Hedges, Lucas’s father, has obviously spent time researching the stories of real people.  He hit on many of the real issues that these families experience and does so without a hammer.  He knows how to build tension and doesn’t shy away from difficult emotions.

I cried multiple times during this film; openly weeping in the theatre more than once.  I was on the edge of my seat, hoping that what seemed inevitable wouldn’t come.  And there are some nice, thrilling surprises throughout, too, that make this more than just a melodramatic movie about drugs.

It might be hard to watch if you’ve been in Holly’s shoes; it might be triggering for someone who’s walked in Ben’s.  But for the rest of us, it should be required viewing as we try to figure out how to help conquer this growing opioid epidemic that’s plaguing our country, our culture, and most of all, our families.

Director: Peter Hedges
Writer: Peter Hedges
Notable Cast: Julia Roberts, Lucas Hedges

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