Movie Review: Ben is Back


Ben is standing in front of his house door on Christmas Eve, and he’s begging that his family will accept him back in the house where he grew up, ran, jumped, laughed, and joked. He was found four months earlier in an overdose by his mother with a needle in his arm.

This plot of a son that has returned to his home after chasing a wrong life sounds a lot like the famous biblical “Parable of the Prodigal Son”, but is actually the beginning of the stunning movie, Ben is Back, released in 2018 and directed by Peter Hedges.

Ben, played by Lucas Hedges, and his mom, played by Julia Roberts, are the main characters of this film. Ben is a 19 years old drug addict who is 77 days clean, and she is his mother, a woman destroyed by her son’s mistakes, but that is still there to open up her arms and welcome him in an embrace and in her home.

The rest of the family, however, is more skeptical about Ben’s return. They were supposed to meet him the next day at the rehab, and this sudden appearance leaves them puzzled.

Ben’s encouraging and optimistic words about his new life and sobriety, however, convince Holly, his mom, that this time it’s going to be different. Therefore she allows him to stay.

In order for him to stay, however, Holly sets clear limits: he’ll remain for 24 hours and then go back to rehab, he’ll spend the whole time always with her, even during the night, and he’ll have to pass a drug test.

The young guy agrees, passes the test, and the first part of the day seems to go for the best. The problems arise when he starts to manifest the suspicious need to go out of the house and is very well known that the world outside is full of temptations, memories, and people from the past.

Ben ends up escaping, and even if driven by good intentions and love for his family he gets in trouble again. Holly tries with all her strength to keep her son close to herself, but can anyone really save a person that doesn’t want to be helped?

And so if at the beginning of the movie, he’s the one kneeling at his mother’s feet, now it’s his mother who is “on her knees”, driving all night around the city praying to find him, and to find him alive.

The night is long and Julia Roberts’s interpretation is simply sublime in all the drama and fears that her character feels. She’s able to fit perfectly in the role of mother and to transmit the message that everybody else is allowed to leave Ben, but she, his mother, will never give up on him because her whole life and happiness depend on his son’s existence.
During the course of the movie, a lot of characters and episodes from the past are presented, like Ben’s ex-girlfriend or the reason why Ben started to do drugs, but there’s not enough time to develop a previous context of the story, since the plot takes place in only 24 frantic hours.

The strong point of the film is showing the devastation that drug addiction brings not just for drug addicts but also and especially in the lives of the people surrounding them.

The film investigates also some psychological facts about addiction like the common need to lie. The viewer lives this story through Holly’s experience and is naturally led to believe in what Ben says, only to find out, each time, that it was all falsehood.

Although there is a cure for this “disease,” Ben’s story tells you how hard it can be.