FILM REVIEW: Ben is Back

A drama about addiction starring an Oscar-winner and an Oscar-nominee?

Sounds like Oscar bait, but somehow Ben is Back slipped through the awards season largely unnoticed.

The all-too-real film stars Julia Roberts (Homecoming) and Lucas Hedges (whose other recent release, Boy Erased, also failed to impress the Academy Awards voters despite its two Golden Globe nominations) and takes place over the course of a single night.

Christmas Eve, to be exact.

Ben (Hedges), is a young, recovering drug addict who has returned home for the holiday.

This is a big surprise to his mother, sister, half siblings and stepfather who believed he was not supposed to leave his sober living facility.

While most of the family is ill at ease with Ben’s return, mum Holly (Roberts) is desperate to believe her son is doing well and falls over herself to make his short stay a success.

But, to the surprise of no one, the night does not go smoothly and there are plenty of obstacles that need to be overcome.

Ghosts from Ben’s drug-addled past refuse to go quietly and the whole family is put in danger.

What this film does remarkably well is show an addict as a human being.

Stirring drama: Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges are the heart and soul of Peter Hedges' new film Ben is Back, rated M, in cinemas now.

Stirring drama: Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges are the heart and soul of Peter Hedges' new film Ben is Back, rated M, in cinemas now.

This is rarely done in mainstream films – usually addicts are portrayed street urchins, gangsters, criminals, always at the fringe of society.

But the reality is more complex – there are addicts living in the suburbs, working jobs, who have families.

And Ben is Back shows that, shows the length and breadth of a mother’s love, shows the fear of triggering a relapse, shows the person behind the disease.

Roberts and Hedges – whose father Peter wrote and directed the film – deliver remarkable performances.

The majority of the film is just the two of them as they take a wild ride to face some of Ben’s demons, but they never become boring.

They are supported by Courtney B Vance (Office Christmas Party) as Holly’s sceptical husband Neal and Kathryn Newton (Big Little Lies) as Ben’s sister Ivy.

Ben is Back is an emotional rollercoaster and makes for a difficult, yet important, watch.

Be sure to catch it before it leaves cinemas.

Rating: 7.5/10