Ben is Back
Julia Robert’s is the best. The American actress can rarely be seen in an unlikeable role; perhaps it’s her contagious smile, the one that lights up the entire cinema or living room where her film is being played. The actress has been relegated to mother roles in film these days (although on TV she has a juicy turn in Homecoming), but the actress has embraced it by grounding her motherly characters with boldness and passion.
Ben is Back is a film about a mother and her son. The film’s protagonist is Holly, the mother (Julia Roberts) a well-off mother of four (two from a second marriage), who’s surprised when her eldest son Ben (Lucas Hedges) returns early from rehab, right before Christmas.
The film was essentially made to bring awareness to an epidemic happening in the United States: opioid addictions. Based on government data more people die in the United States from overdosing on opioids than anything else, including car crashes and gun violence. The film’s director and writer Peter Hedges himself admitted that bringing awareness to this issue was the film’s goal. While incredibly noble, you do find that the film makes forceful narrative turns in order to steer the characters into convenient situations to make its statement.
The movie does have powerful moments, however. Despite certain tacky moments, the two lead actors make use of some of the material to bring about incredibly emotional scenes. One that struck me was when Holly, fearing her son was relapsing, drives Ben to the cemetery and cries at him “Where do you want me to bury you son?!” Roberts embodies the sense of hopelessness and yet determination to never give up on her son. There’s a certain acting that few actors can do, and it’s when one can transmit emotions through their eyes. Roberts and Hedges are able to do that, showing us the blinding love of a mother on one side, and the painful feeling of hurting a loved one on the other. Hedges gives such a searing portrait of someone who could have easily been repulsive and distant, but his Ben is instead a tragic figure who has fallen victim to an uncontrollable enemy.
In the end the film manages to get across its message of awareness through a handful of powerful scenes anchored by the two exceptional performers. Even if the film doesn’t amount to much cinematically, its’ viewing should be recommended for the sake of such an ignored ongoing epidemic.