Entertainment » Movies

Ben Is Back

by Frank J. Avella
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Mar 5, 2019
Ben Is Back

"Ben is Back," Peter Hedges powerful and incisive account of a fiercely devoted mother and her troubled son facing the horrors of addiction, seemed to fall through the cine-cracks last year, receiving very little attention at the box office as well as during the awards season juggernaut.

It's a damn shame, too, because seeing the film a second time it's clear that Julia Roberts delivers a deeply nuanced turn as Holly, a mother trying to hold her world together and, especially, keep her son, Ben, from imploding. Lucas Hedges, easily one of the best young actors working in film today, fascinates with a realistic and ambiguous performance as a young man whose life has devolved due to his addiction to meth. We're never quite sure what's going on in Ben's head because Ben is forever vacillating himself.

The basic plot has Ben returning home, possibly too early, to spend Christmas with his family. Will he use again? Can we trust him? And who is attempting to seek revenge on him, and why?

Peter Hedges (father of Lucas) gives his two lead actors the breathing room they need to bring these characters to remarkable life.

I can only imagine that "Ben is Back" got lost and confused because "Beautiful Boy" (a lesser effort also about a parent and child dealing with drug addiction) and "Boy Erased" (about conversion therapy) were also released in the fall of 2018. Both those films try too hard to please, checking all the right boxes but feeling manufactured. They also follow paint-by-numbers scripts, whereas "Ben is Back" feels authentic. I only hope it finds its deserved audience via streaming and home entertainment.

The Blu-ray transfer is commendable with the stunning and haunting camerawork standing out even more on the small screen.

Special Features are sparse with an image gallery and a quite detailed scene-for-scene Audio Commentary by writer-director Hedges, but nothing else.

I recall debating the second half of "Ben is Back" with a few colleagues who felt the movie jumped the shark. I disagree. What the seemingly odd plot shift does is allow us to spend time with both mother and son and really get to know them and how fiercely they are both fighting for the same thing. And the ending is startling in its ambiguity.

"Ben is Back"
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Frank J. Avella is a film and theatre journalist and is thrilled to be writing for EDGE. He is also a proud Dramatists Guild member and a recipient of a 2018 Bogliasco Foundation Fellowship. He was awarded a 2015 Fellowship Award from the NJ State Council on the Arts, the 2016 Helene Wurlitzer Residency Grant and the Chesley/Bumbalo Foundation Playwright Award for his play Consent, which was also a 2012 semifinalist for the O'Neill. His play, Vatican Falls, took part in the 2017 Planet Connections Festivity and Frank was nominated for Outstanding Playwriting. Lured was a semifinalist for the 2018 O'Neill and received a 2018 Arch and Bruce Brown Foundation Grant. Lured will premiere in 2018 in NYC and 2019 in Rome, Italy. LuredThePlay.com

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