Ben is Back film review: a powerful conclusion

Lucas Hedges and Julia Roberts.
Lucas Hedges and Julia Roberts.

BEN (Lucas Hedges) returns to his family home on Christmas Eve for a break from rehab where he has been recovering from drug addiction.

The family is uncertain about his surprise visit, unsure whether he is ready to deal with the triggers and memories that fill his house and hometown.

Mum Holly (Julia Roberts) says Ben can stay for the holiday as long as he never leaves her sight.

At first the nauseating hand-held camera and the constant dialogue is off-putting and makes the film hard to follow.

Nonetheless, it serves to create a sense of unease, mirroring the family’s reactions to Ben’s appearance.

The story unfolds over a day, which keeps the film focused on the relationship between Ben and Holly and this where the storyline excels.

Roberts plays a mother tentatively hoping the son she loves has returned to her, but unable to trust him fully.

In recent years, Hedges has cornered the market in troubled teens in films such as Manchester by the Sea and Boy Erased and this role is no exception.

He moves from charismatic and charming, easily able to win people over with his entertaining anecdotes, to visibly struggling with his addiction and his past.

In conversations, details of Ben’s life at the height of his addiction are revealed and are all the more powerful imagined by the audience rather than shown in flashbacks.

The second half of the story shifts from family drama to thriller-like after a break-in at the family home.

Ben and Holly drive around town in search of their missing dog, meeting people and visiting places that confront them with Ben’s drug-filled past.

Addiction issues are tackled many times in film and while Ben is Back does not offer anything new, its conclusion is no less powerful.

THE ESSENTIALS

Ben is Back (M)

Directed by: Peter Hedges

Starring: Julia Roberts, Lucas Hedges, Courtney B. Vance

Three and a half stars

Review by Lucy Rutherford

In cinemas January 31