Ben is Back is a drama written and directed by Peter Hedges, who is also the main character’s father. The plot follows a mother who tries to help her addict son after he unexpectedly returns home after just 77 days of rehab. Ben is Back is moving and intense and includes a message of how powerful drugs are, even when you apply tough love. I’m glad I got to see this riveting movie — what an appropriate, strong message it sends as a sign of the times, as well as a look into the world of drugs at a very personal level.
Driving home with her kids on Christmas Eve, Holly Burns-Beeby (Julia Roberts) is startled to see her son, Ben Burns (Lucas Hedges) standing in the driveway. Ben has been in rehab for the past couple of months and was not supposed to be released yet. Ben explains that his sponsor said a trip home would be good for him. Leery of his story, Holly is happy to see him anyway and says he can stay for 24 hours on the condition he does not leave her sight. Holly’s husband, Neal Beeby (Courtney B. Vance) who is not Ben’s father, is skeptical and helps to lay down the law if Ben is to stay. Neal and Holly have two young children, Lacey Beeby (Mia Fower) and their 6-year-old son, Liam Beeby (Jakari Fraser), who have a beautiful and fun relationship with Ben. The couple also has a daughter from Holly’s previous marriage, Ivy Burns (Kathryn Newton).
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During the 24 hours Holly and Ben have together, she decides to take him holiday shopping at the mall, which will also allow her to buy him clothes for church. While there, Holly runs into Dr, Crane (Jack Davidson), Ben’s former doctor who is now an old man riddled with dementia. When the doctor’s caregiver walks away, leaving Dr. Crane alone in Holly’s presence, she yells at him for getting her son hooked on painkillers after a snowboarding accident that took place when he was younger. Ben also makes eye contact with someone who clearly recognizes him, leaving Ben looking worried. Ben tells Holly to get him to a support group meeting immediately.
At the meeting Ben shares the story of how he almost overdosed but his mom and dog saved him. After the meeting he is approached by a young girl (Liliana Weaver). He doesn’t recognize her, but she tells him he was her dealer and asks if he wants to get high with her one last time. Back shopping once again Holly finds drugs on Ben, which he claims the girl at the meeting gave him. Holly takes the drugs and they go home and get ready for church. At church they see a distraught woman, Beth (Rachel Bay Jones). Holly approaches her and gives her condolences for the loss of her daughter Maggie. It is implied that Maggie was a friend or girlfriend of Ben’s who also had an addiction. Maggie overdosed and died.
The family drives home from church that night to find someone had broken into their home and kidnapped the family dog, Ponce (Nigel). Realizing it had something to do with him, Ben runs off to find Ponce and bring him home. Holly follows him in her car and they end up driving around trying to find the dog together. They first visit one of Ben’s former high school teachers, whom Holly is shocked to learn provided her son with drugs in exchange for sexual favors. Next they go to Maggie’s father’s (Jeff Auer) apartment but seeing him asleep with no dog in sight, they retreated to their car. Maggie’s father awakens and angrily smashes Holly’s car window while screaming for Ben to leave. They ended up eating at a diner and Ben tells Holly he got Maggie hooked on drugs and is responsible for her death. He says that he lied by convincing Maggie that drugs were the best thing ever.
There is a lot more story to tell. Ben is Back is a well put together movie that shows an addict’s path as he tries to lick the habit while still living in the environment where he started and continued using drugs. Julia Roberts was brilliant as the mother of an adult drug addict who also had to shelter and care for her other children. Small incidences built up into big problems for Lucas Hedges who played Ben and also gave a brilliant performance. I was unable to predict this movie, which is a delightful change from the same kind of movie plots I’m use to. The family seemed real and the problems were also real. Given this important message, it seems like Ben is Back would have been a lot more popular than it was. I think it flew way under the radar. If you are dealing with a similar situation, this is the movie to see, as it suggest ways of dealing with your addicted love one, which may or may not help. It’s almost impossible to outwit a drug addict who is well into their journey. I highly suggest Ben is Back, especially if you are unfortunate enough to be dealing with a drug addicted person — the film received generally favorable reviews from critics, who praised the performances of Hedges and Roberts. Ben is Back can now be seen on DVD and Blu-Ray — Check It Out!