Ben is Back

Though it may have been released too close to the Academy Awards to snag a lot of nominations, “Ben is Back” is a touching film led by Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges.

In one of the most unheralded movies coming out this month, “Pretty Woman” Oscar-winner Julia Roberts teams up with rising 22-year-old acting phenom Lucas Hedges to deliver one of her best screen performances in years. 

A heavy family drama taking on the urgency and rapid-fire developments facing an overwhelmed and unprepared mother struggling hard to find answers, “Ben Is Back” cautiously blends Roberts’ maternal optimism for her child’s struggle with drug addiction while she battles the deadly serious reality check on how terrible life may turn out for her son. 

Roberts’ magnificence begins in a small town on Christmas Eve when her son, Ben, unexpectedly shows up after a 77-day clean stay in a rehab center. Shocked but overjoyed to see Ben at the holiday, Roberts’ character Holly Burns faces skepticism within the family towards Ben’s unannounced arrival. It’s here, over the next 24 hours of cinema time, that “Ben Is Back” effortlessly swings back and forth between a son’s sweet outward acts and his dark past attempting to return.

Parents with teenagers will share in the anxiety and stress felt by Roberts as she tries tough love on her child. The decisions she makes not only places hardships on Ben, but also on herself and the others in their home. A doubting stepfather (played wonderfully by Courtney Vance) and sister sibling (Kathryn Newton) poke and prod Roberts as she attempts to make the best decisions possible in difficult, uncertain times.

Trust issues and bad influences are always at the forefront of this suspense-filled addiction plot ready to spiral downward out of control at any time. With each passing minute, we learn more and more about Ben’s suburban past and his relationships that led to his need for treatment. 

 “Ben Is Back” won’t generate the Academy Award chatter for Lucas like his role as a gay son in “Boy Erased” will create in Hollywood. But, teamed up with a sensational job by Roberts in this eye-opener for parents, look for both to get well-deserved kudos. Enough to garner Oscar nominations in three weeks? Not likely for Hedges due to strong competition in the best actor category. Don’t be surprised, though, if Roberts sneaks a best actress nom for all the mothers out there. 

Grade: B+

“Ben Is Back” is rated R with a running time of 1 hour and 43 minutes. It expands to wide release on Dec. 21.

Patrick King is a resident of Tucson and writer for the Reel Brief movie blog at Email him at

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