Most parents care about their kids, maybe even a bit too much. In Ben is Back, a mother has to go through every parent’s worst nightmare.
Ben Is Back follows drug addict Ben (Lucas Hedges) who returns home on Christmas Eve with the intention of spending one day with his family before he returns to rehab. His family have mixed feelings about his return, and his sobriety. His mother Holly (Julia Roberts) welcomes him home with less caution that she should have, but then proceeds to hide all the medication and jewellery in the house. Ivy (Kathryn Newton), Ben’s sister, is very sceptical of his return and cannot let go of the past. His two younger half siblings adore Ben and love having a big brother. Step dad Neal (Courtney B. Vance) thinks Ben has had too many chances for them to expect anything decent or different from him. As a mother and the only believer in Ben, Holly nurtures him and tries to maintain a balance between being loving and being gullible. But, when a break in happens and the family dog is stolen, Ben and Holly have to go around the town to find the drug dealers who took the dog to spite Ben.
The first half of the film’s plot is great; boy is an addict, he comes home, how will his family act? But the second half, where Ben and Holly risk their lives as well as Ben’s long sobriety to look for their dog in the worst places for Ben to be, just doesn’t work. Dogs are the most amazing creatures ever and one should go to the ends of the earth for their pet, but really? The stakes are too high for such a stunt and the fact that the drug dealers only take the dog is ridiculous. It would have made much more sense if it was one of his younger siblings or something, but that wouldn’t be dramatic enough.
A positive about the plot is how it takes place over the course of 24 hours and has no flashbacks, just mini stories revealed about what Ben did, how he was when he was using, and possible causes for his substance abuse. The 24-hour set up also adds to the tension of the here-and-now in the film, with Holly so anxious the audience could actually feel it.
As for the acting, Julia Roberts took centre stage with multiple amazing freak-out scenes and even constant anxious body language. Roberts was able to maintain the balance of a loving mother and a concerned mother, which is exactly how her character should be. Lucas Hedges was adequately confusing with a sense of weariness about his character in the beginning, but could have done more with the addict-monster parts. Neither Kathryn Newton nor Courtney B. Vance had big roles, but both were able to stand their ground among the cast and deliver convincing performances.
This movie, regardless of its flaws, will touch you, especially if you are a parent, and specifically at the end.