This addiction drama from Peter Hedges (Pieces of April) has its moments of levity and really isn’t bleak, though it doles out plenty of stressful situations.
Ben Is Back stars Julia Roberts (enjoying a revival on the small-screen in Homecoming) and Lucas Hedges (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, Manchester By The Sea and the director’s son) in a small-town Christmas Eve setting.
Hedges’ eponymous character returns home for the holidays unexpectedly after 77 days in a rehabilitation center, finding his way there after being a user and dealer. He has that need of belonging with much younger half-siblings, his savior of a dog, and especially his mother Holly (Roberts) who sets boundaries upon his return when it comes to the medicine cabinet and hiding valuables.
The story pivots on a break-in that leads to a search and separation as everything is tried to be righted before the presents are opened. Where Holly gets to understand a bit about Ben’s downfall (as an encounter with an ex’s mother) that triggers despair and helplessness. Arguably, Molly and Ben are suffocated to a degree of the importance put on the subject at hand — how opioid compulsion rips a family to its core.
Nevertheless, even as Ben Is Back loses focus to a degree the action moves away from home, there’s a reeling, if resilient Roberts to sensitively tap into maternal angst. And, in what is mostly a two-handler, Hedges is an equivocal presence of a suburban son gone bad, notably when it comes to not having many friends. The damage inflicted on Molly is very apparent, and Roberts handles a mother’s unconditional love with emotional verve that may amount to servicing many roles in a PSA.