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The troubled-teen genre is getting a workout these past few months, with films like "Beautiful Boy," starring Timothée Chalamet as a teenage meth addict, and Joel Edgerton's "Boy Erased," starring Lucas Hedges as a teen whose parents won't accept that he's gay and push him into a conversion therapy program. Lucas Hedges now appears with actress Julia Roberts in his father, Peter Hedges' "Ben Is Back," a natural bookend to "Beautiful Boy" although it takes a very different approach to teen addiction. While the latter covers a family struggling over a wide swath of time, "Ben Is Back" takes place throughout a single night, Christmas Eve. Of the three, Ben Is Back is the strongest, meaning it's the rawest and most uncomfortable to sit through. Any movie on this subject that's not uncomfortable isn't really doing its job, and "Ben Is Back" puts an audience through a wringer of emotional and physical suspense. If you've dealt with addiction before, personally or in your extended family, the movie should probably come with a trigger warning. As a holiday movie that's well-crafted but likely to sadden you to your core, Peter Hedges' "Ben Is Back" takes place on Christmas Eve in an upstate New York town. Nineteen-year-old Ben Burns has returned home unexpectedly. His mother Holly is thrilled to see him, but his teenage sister Ivy and stepfather Neal are warier. Gradually, we learn why: Ben is an addict, early in his recovery, and the scars he has caused his family are still fresh. Holly decides that he can stay, but only if she closely monitors him every minute, an arrangement held together by the fragile tape of her belief that this time, somehow, things will be different. The next 24 hours are harrowing, both for the family and the audience, as we piece together the events that led Ben to rehab, and the way they still reverberate for him back home. The director, who's traveled down the dysfunctional-family-over-24-hours road before, sometimes lets things get a bit beyond belief in the film's second act. But he elicits honest, painful performances from all his actors; you see Ivy's guilty resentment; Neal's protective shield; Ben's desperate holding on to home like an anchor in a storm, even as it slips away. But everyone looks at Ben as a human tripwire. Ivy, masks her worry with withering scorn and familial truth-telling, and only when Ben reaches out to her for support does she become a pillar of strength. Audiences can get a slight grasp on the film based on its simple title. What happens after Ben is back is what keeps the audiences in a state of suspense. The suspense is generated by a deceptively simple question, one that haunts most stories of addiction: Will Ben use again? He has sworn that he won't, and part of him doesn't want to, but the other part has made him a liar, and worse, many times before. The questions his behavior creates for the people who love him are equally excruciating. Can they trust him? Should they believe him? How much more damage will he do, to them and to himself? An early scene establishes the tense vibe: The family returns noisily home from a church pageant rehearsal, sees Ben looming by the driveway, and the car comes to a jolting stop. When Holly, first sees him, she's pulling up in the family station wagon and the look on her face is one of pure terror. The trust, the ease and a lot of the glue in this mother/son relationship have been dangerously depleted. In dribs and drabs, the dialogue of the film reveals the worst of what this family has endured since the onset of Ben's addictions which began with painkillers at 14. Chronic lying, a pattern of theft and repeated, life-threatening chemical devotion to his demons: This is a story millions and millions have known. The family has been through this season with Ben before, and they know the only tidings he brings are bad ones. Ben's a recovering monster whose worst days may finally be behind him, but no one can afford to believe that, including him. Ben's back from a rehab facility, where he's been doing well enough and he says that he has been given a holiday pass. Ben's younger step-siblings are happy to have their brother back for Christmas, though his teenage sister Ivy can't hide her distrust of her heartbreaking brother. "I've got a good feeling about this," Holly announces early on, regarding Ben's return. "Well, I don't," says Ivy. Deep down Holly knows the Christmas at hand will be complicated at best. The movie works like a screw, slowly tightening. As with any addiction drama, a dread-filled brand of suspense hangs in the air: When will the protagonist begin using again? Where are the temptations hidden? How will everyone else be affected? There are other characters, notably Holly's wary but supportive husband and a variety of Ben's acquaintances' including users, dealers, people who owed money and those fed up with Ben's evasions. A shopping trip to the local mall, with Ben and Holly, followed by church means that Ben and his mother is confronted by both the causes and the collateral damage of his addiction. A scene between Holly and the doctor who first prescribed her son opiates is a blistering shot of rage which punctuates the gradually mounting unease of the film. Halfway through, tension mounts after the family returns home to discover that their dog has been kidnapped, and Ben and his mother set out on a nighttime mission to rescue and find the dog. Their mother/son reunion ended abruptly when Ben ran away at a gas station. Desperate to find Ben, Holly now has to re-see the geography of her home town through the eyes of her addict son. Under the unflappable calm Holly projects to the rest of the family, we see the desperate fear that she might be about to lose him to drugs for good. Without spoiling it, the film ends exactly when and where it should. Throughout this film, you see Roberts, who takes hold of this movie like a lamppost in the winter darkness. That huge Julia Roberts smile turns up here, but it's haunting: Holly is trying to make Ben's jokes funnier than they are, to reassure, to will her family into holiday-appropriate happiness. But behind it is a quiet, crushing sadness; a sense that something inside this woman died long ago and won't come back. "Call your mother," she blurts out quickly, to a shadowy associate of Ben's that they encounter during a very long, dark night. It's a performance and a film that's a tribute to maternal love. In this time for movies about teens in trouble, it's the mom in this one who packs the biggest punch. All I can advise is that this is a good film, you just need the stomach for it!
My God this is a horror movie based on a sad reality that everyone should see.
It's an emotional rollercoaster with nothing sacred except the power of a mother's love.
Great movie; so sad though
Not all it was hyped up to be
Ben is backed showcases how great Julia Robert's can act, it is riveting at times. It is crazy to see how much of an effect drugs can have on a family's life, Peter Hedges does a beautiful job of capturing it. Lucas Hedges is on point as always, there has yet to be a part of his I didn't like.
Driven by the powerhouse performances of Academy Award winner Julia Roberts and Academy Award nominee Lucas Hedges, Ben is Back delves into the psyche of what drives a drug-addicts actions, even when he/she attempts to repair irreparable damages impacted upon those they love. Sellar!
What a great movie. Addiction is reached such an all time high and this movie didn't sugar coat how it can tear a family apart. Julia Roberts was amazing as Ben's mom, definitely a must see movie.
First half was compelling, and insight into a family struggle with addiction, but the second half was unrealistic and boring.
Bem is Back is a glass of sour milk after watching Beautiful Boy. It is boring, cliched and despite the fact that the story has some touching moments, it will be familiar to some people. However, there aren't any doubts about how talented Lucas Hedges is.