Most families have that one member who doesn’t seem to fit the mold of the rest of the family. This person is often referred to as the “black sheep” and they will test the boundaries of your love for them more often than not. The question becomes how far will you go for that person or will you just give up after a certain point. I have one child and would go to the ends of the earth for her, but I say that not having gone through years of trials and tribulations. Ben is Back is just such a story of how far one mom would go for her troubled son.
Holly Burns (Julia Roberts) has a normal as can be family who is getting ready for Christmas. When they get back home from church Holly gets the one present she wanted most, that is her son Ben (Lucas Hedges) being home. Ben is not away at college, no, he is not home because he is in recovery for addictions that have ruled his life. The trust is gone and Holly wants her son home but she doesn’t know if its best because of the triggers that are all around him. After talking to her husband Neal (Courtney B. Vance), Holly decides to let Ben stay for a day, but only with constant supervision no matter where he goes. Ben’s past comes back though in the form of someone breaking in their home and stealing the family dog. Ben and Holly in an effort to get it back take a trip down Ben’s past, visiting old hangouts and people from his past. All of this leads to a night that will test one mother’s love as she tries to save her son from himself.
Stories like this that feel steeped in realism, especially I would think for someone who has gone through it are always tough to watch. Writer Peter Hedges takes a story of addiction and puts it through the eyes of one woman who just wants to save her son. This is a performance piece with Hedges reminding you he needs to be in as much as possible and Roberts giving the heaviest of performances as I have ever seen her give. You feel every ounce of her pain and conflict as she races to retrieve her dog and at the same time save her son from falling back into his past. You can feel the tension in the film build and by the third act you at rooting for Hedge’s character to stay on his current path. The direction sets up that tension brilliantly, but it is Roberts and Hedges that drive it home as both bring the humanity the roles need. There are layers to this story that are worth unpacking as Peter Hedges delivers a film that rings of being very personal. Whether you can relate or not, this is a film will put you through the ringer of what living through something like this can be like, but even if you haven’t gone through this Ben is Back will without a doubt make you feel something.