Ben Is Back
Set during the course of 24 hours in which a young man returns to his family home for a surprise visit on Christmas Eve, Ben Is Back highlights the challenges of drug addiction while dramatising a mother’s unfaltering love for her son as the two unite to battle his habit. Julia Roberts delivers an emotional performance as suburban mother Holly Burns, whose son Ben (Lucas Hedges) leaves the rehab centre unexpectedly to spend the festive season with the family. His sister Ivy (Kathryn Newton) and step-father Neal (Courtney B Vance), who have witnessed the low-point of his dependency, do not trust his sudden reappearance, leaving Holly alone in her determination to save her son – even from the grasp of death.
The film is aware of the devastating effects of addiction on the family and friends of the user as well as the socioeconomic factors that impact upon the discourse surrounding drugs; Neal informs Holly that if Ben were black, he would now be in prison, criminalised for his illness. Ben’s problem begins with the highly profitable pharmaceutical industry, an issue that the narrative does not shy away from. Bumping into their aged family doctor at the shopping centre, Holly wishes him a painful death for the agony he has caused them by administering her 14-year-old son highly addictive narcotics. Later on in the story, the mother goes to the pharmacy, where she is refused the medicine that will help Ben should he overdose on drugs, while the same chemist unquestioningly gives Ben the supplies he needs to take the substance itself.
Despite touching performances by the central pair, Peter Hedges’s direction falls short of the potential of a nuanced drama that centres around the love of a mother and the power with which she faces issues that can – and often do – break families and entire communities apart. After word spreads of Ben’s return, the film takes a dramatic turn, becoming more of a thriller in which a suburban woman and her young son enter the fearsome world of illicit drugs, dealing, trafficking and various forms of abuse. In this shift in genre, the feature moves away from a sombre space where the issues around drug addiction can be discussed in a constructive manner.
Ben Is Back is released nationwide on 15th March 2019.
Watch the trailer for Ben Is Back here: