As far as feel-good Christmas films go, Ben Is Back is last to be heart-warming, but a must-see as a unique perspective into the opioid crisis that people today have fallen into.
Directed by Peter Hedges (Dan in Real Life, The Odd Life of Timothy Green), Ben Is Back stars Lucas Hedges, Julia Roberts, Courtney B. Vance and Kathryn Newton.
Taking place within a 24-hour timespan, Ben Burns, played by a phenomenal Lucas Hedges, returns home unexpectedly from rehabilitation to spend the holidays with his family. During his return, he runs into his past, making him and his mom, Holly Burns, played by the brilliant Julia Roberts, face the harsh realities of addiction and what addicts do to get what they want.
I praised Hedges’ performance in Boy Erased not long ago. In Ben Is Back, Hedges topples all his other performances this year. He, along with the already outstanding Roberts, are the embodiment of what the film is trying to accomplish, and it is powerful.
With father directing son, it seems like Lucas is comfortable in this environment Peter has set for him.
Lucas Hedges’ portrayal of a young addict is tear-jerking. He pulls out all the stops of wanting to get better and then being constrained by his past. His back and forth with Roberts is a mirror-image of a mother and son trying to get on track, for the sake of Ben, his mom, his family and the others that Ben has wronged.
Ben Is Back will get comparisons to Beautiful Boy, another film about the opioid crisis starring Timothée Chalamet and Steve Carell. Yes, both films are a testament to what families go through when a loved one is caught in between freedom and one more injection, but what director Peter Hedges has created is a unique narrative on the subject, while getting perspectives from family members and strangers.
I absolutely love the script. This is what makes Ben Is Back such a remarkable and beautiful film. Peter has written a script that isn’t afraid to show a viewpoint from someone who hates what Ben did when he wasn’t clean.
For example, Ben was a prominent drug dealer in his town, thus the people that he sold to got even more addicted. The movie shows the audience that these people weren’t just mentioned and thrown away, rather Ben is distraught by his disgusting behavior when the people of his past come up to him and remind him of what he’s done.
It feels like Ben Is Back gets to the nitty gritty of what being a drug dealer and addict is like. There are those that want to help, those that hate him and those that still want drugs from him. It’s a brave script that isn’t just about a specific family, but it’s about the topic of drug addiction itself; mental illness is a timely and important subject that may be considered taboo.
Although I haven’t been through this experience, I know people, both friends and family, that are addicted to opioids and have even fell victim to overdosing.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse states that “every day, more than 115 people in the United States die after overdosing on opioids.”
Whether or not you know it, the opioid crisis is close, and it’s scary.
While the script for Ben Is Back is original and heartbreaking, the first half feels like a family drama and the second feels like a crime drama. Audiences might feel this is the turning point that feels like a complete left turn from what the movie started out as. But if you feel invested in the characters, the all too real events that Ben and Holly face logically play as 24 hours of tears and curiosity.
Roberts and Lucas both deserve Oscar nominations for Best Actress and Best Actor. In just the short time that we spend with the two characters, Roberts goes through a range of mom traits: accepting, obsessive, protective, strict and worried. Mom of the year award goes to Holly Burns who goes to the absolute depths of the drug world to help her son.
Lucas is a revelation and is at the highest point of his career in Ben Is Back. This bright, young star shows that he can stand with the likes of great actors of this generation. I’m enticed by the film path he’s chosen and I’m loving everything he’s doing so far.
Vance and Newton play Ben’s father and sister, respectively. They are inspiring as people who care about the well-being of Ben, but they can also see through the bullshit. They want the best for Ben. They want him to get better, but since they have been deceived in the past, during Ben’s stints as a helpless addict, they have their guards up.
Ben Is Back cements Peter Hedges’ ability to direct an ensemble cast with emotion and fearlessness.
Without any spoilers, Ben Is Back important film set during the holidays that deals with the grimy topic of drug addiction and the friends and families that are affected. Although the linear story that Ben and Holly end up on shifts the tone of the film, Holly’s unbreakable love for Ben hits the heart with a punch.
The opioid crisis is real and not everyone will accept their truths, but those around them can support them. We can be the love that they’ve forgotten about.