Review: Ben Is Back deals with opioid addiction with a surprising lightness

Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges are convincing as a mother and son confronting addiction issues


BEN IS BACK (Peter Hedges). 103 minutes. Opens Friday (December 14). See listing. Rating: NNNN


Ben Is Back confronts the realities of opioid addiction many families deal with, and it does so with surprising lightness and space for much-needed humour.

Holly (Julia Roberts) wants badly to believe her addict son Ben (Lucas Hedges) is finally sober, but the rest of her family is more skeptical when he returns home on Christmas Eve. As a precaution, she clears out the medicine cabinet and hides anything of value, but Ben is still confronted with triggers at home he hasn’t learned to deal with. 

While the family is at midnight mass, their house is broken into and the dog goes missing. Ben is convinced he knows who did it and why, and Holly agrees to accompany him to right his wrongs. Ben’s stepfather Neal (Courtney B. Vance) has a different perspective on Ben’s redemption efforts, since he knows that African-American teens who deal and do drugs are not afforded as many second chances.

Roberts is effervescent in her role as a mother who refuses to give up on her child, and Hedges, directed by his father Peter Hedges, convincingly plays suburban good-kid-gone-bad. More than anything, Ben Is Back is about unconditional love.

Oscar buzz 

The actor categories are crowded, but don’t count out Oscar-winner Roberts and Lucas Hedges, who are both in other high-profile projects this season, the brilliant TV show Homecoming and the gay-conversion-therapy drama Boy Erased. The Academy loves recovery narratives.

This review is part of NOW’s 2018 Holiday Movie Special. Check out more here.

@michdas

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