Director: Peter Hedges
Writer: Peter Hedges
Stars: Julia Roberts, Lucas Hedges, Courtney B. Vance
Films about addictions and the destructive effect on family life and personal well-being. I have a hard time dealing with it. “Beautiful Boy” made a crushing impression on me recently. I was thrown off balance after watching it. An emotional fight by a father trying to save his son from a world full of self-destructive chemical junk. An impressive spectacle about hope and second chances. Maybe “Ben is back” is not a similar film on the whole. But nonetheless, I looked at it again in a depressing way and a not so pleasant memory came up again. “Ben is back” certainly isn’t a bad film but doesn’t reach the same level as “Beautiful Boy “. Unfortunately, they decided halfway to turn the social drama into a drug-related thriller. Dealing (pun not intended) with drug addiction was replaced by settings things straight with some drug dealers. In other words, Ben’s world from the past.
Here it’s not a father who serves as a rock in the raging surf. Holly (Julia Roberts) remains Ben’s refuge. She still has hope in the recovery of her son Ben (Lucas Hedges). And then suddenly her son shows up with Christmas. A complete surprise since he normally would stay over in rehab during the holidays. Ben has been there for several months and thanks to his sponsor he seems to be able to leave the addictive stuff behind him. And mother Holly is positive. Nevertheless, all medicines and valuable things are removed quickly. Apparently, confidence has not yet been fully restored.
And also, stepfather Neal (Courtney B. Vance) doesn’t trust him. So, he imposes a veto. Ben is allowed to stay with them for 24 hours, but only if mother Holly keeps a close eye on him for the entire period. A veto that provides the most exciting part of the film. The interaction between mother and son. Endearing and moving at moments. Fairly confronting and painful at other times. Like the scene at the cemetery where Molly points out how destructive his life is. He can even choose a spot as his last resting place. Or the conversation between Molly and the retired doctor who prescribed pain killers to Ben in the past. Two scenes imbued with anger and despair. And all thanks to the addictive stuff Ben was hooked on. Something he wants to get rid of if you listen to his monologue during an NA meeting. In my eyes the most emotional moment.
Naturally, the interpretations of Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges are the ones that get the most attention. And although I’m not such a Julia Roberts fan, I still found her acting impressive and convincing. An emotional roller coaster squeezed into one day. And Roberts plays this tormented but sometimes tough mother in a solid and realistic way. Lucas Hedges also plays his role as the former drug addict in a brilliant way. The moment he bursts into tears during “Silent Night” in the church, will leave no one untouched. But Courtney B. Vance and Kathryn Newton also deserve some praise.
And yet this movie didn’t impress me as much as “Beautiful Boy “. Purely and simply because they’ve not only chosen to create a captivating emotional family drama, but also to make a standard drugs-related thriller of it. The moment the dog disappeared, it immediately reminded me of “Once upon a time in Venice” where gang leader Jason Momoa kidnapped Bruce Willis’s dog. The search of Ben and his mother is a quest full of popular attractions from Ben’s drug history. The key question in the second part is whether Ben is able to resist the temptation. And despite the excessive melodrama at the end, it’s still an exquisite film that conclusively demonstrates how destructive drugs can be. This film should be included in the educational curriculum of secondary schools. Together with “Beautiful Boy” it shows in a realistic way how disastrous your life can be. No drug campaign can match this!