Movie Review of BEN IS BACK: A heartfelt, pious adage on addiction and parenting


Here is the movie review of BEN IS BACK starring Oscar winner Julia Roberts and Oscar nominee Lucas Hedges. The addiction drama by writer director Peter Hedges known for PIECES OF APRIL and ABOUT A BOY shows the magnificent Julia Roberts as a mother whose son played by the wonderful Lucas Hedges is a recovering addict. Does it comes clean and stays sober?, find out in our BEN IS BACK movie review.

Most striking feature?
The best emotional knock out in the addiction drama genre after Luis Mandoki’s WHEN A MAN LOVES A WOMAN (1994) starring Andy Garcia and Meg Ryan. We have had the noir MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM (1955) starring Frank Sinatra, The disturbing HEAVEN KNOWS WHAT etc, but here writer director Peter Hedges remarkably makes the audience captivated with such intimacy, understanding and empathy of a mother and her addict son that is so clean and honest in its emotions.

The Story
As Holly Burns (Julia Roberts) returns from church after watching her kids rehearse for a Christmas pageant, her son Ben from her first marriage is waiting at the doorstep. Ben is a recovering addict currently undergoing a course in a rehab. Ben was not supposed to leave the rehab but he claims that his home visit has the approval of his sponsor. The Seventy-seven days ‘clean’ Ben has this dirty habit of relapsing and ruining the life of his family giving them nightmares. It’s Christmas time, will Holly Burns get her most precious gift?, will Ben remain sober?, or the doubts of Ben’s sister Ivy Burns (Kathryn Newton) and stepfather Neal Burns (Courtney B. Vance) come true?.


Writer director Peter Hedges gives a truthful, pious, sensitive, pulsating and sweepingly intimate family drama that captures the dilemma of a recovering addict, his caring mom and the suspicious world around. Addiction is a disease and not a sin – this is hard for a normal person to understand and Peter Hedges weaves the proceedings in such a manner that anyone can identify with the vulnerable Ben and his ‘steel’ Mom Holly. Holly welcomes Ben, he is the best thing to happen for her on Christmas but she hides the medicines, ornaments when Ben enters home. Ben asks his sister Ivy to search for the place where he use to keep his drugs. The Narcotics Anonymous meeting where Ben shares from heart and Holly goes through all the emotions of hope, fear, sadness and smile is sheer class. The reservations of Neal Burns is understandable so is the turmoil of Ben who thinks he is guilty of everything. Peter Hedges as a writer director gives an emotional knockout in BEN IS BACK which hauntingly ‘comes back’ for good.

Julia Roberts
The magnificent actress Julia Roberts has given performance which is one of her best, as Holly, the actress gives us the most strong willed and caring mother on screen. She gets nasty on the doctor who gave his son medicines that became the cause of Ben’s problem. She puts down rules for Ben when he makes a surprise entry on Christmas eve, she believes him but also has a doubt whether he will betray her once again, the outburst at the gas station, the climax. Pure brilliance.

Lucas Hedges
Writer director Peter Hedges son Lucas carries the rich legacy of his outstanding works in MANCHESTER BY THE SEA, BOY ERASED to a new dimension as the a young opiate addict who is fighting it hard to be in touch with his thought and feelings, avoiding relapse triggers and focusing on acceptance. The ‘surrender’ of actor Lucas Hedges to the character Ben is incredible.


Other Performances
Kathryn Newton as Ben’s sister is remarkable. Courtney B. Vance as the rationally thinking step father of Bens is commendable.

Flip side
Somewhere in the second half, the movie takes a thriller mode for a while

Is BEN IS BACK worth watching?
BEN IS BACK is a cinema that is so powerful in its emotional currents and understanding of an addict behavior that it ‘keeps coming back’ in the minds and hearts of the audience. Such emotional knock out with magical performance doesn,t comes back repeatedly on screen. Very highly recommended

Critic Rating