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Ben is Back

Starring Julia Roberts, Lucas Hedges, Courtney B. Vance, Kathryn Newton

Director/Writer Peter Hedges

Genre: Family Drama                                                                Runs: 103 Minutes                                 

Rated: MA 15plus

This film is a tribute to maternal love and a sad indictment of how addiction can destroy almost everything. Julia Roberts is superb as the fiercely protective mother of a drug-addicted teenager. Seventy-seven days have passed since Ben Burns has been clean when he shows up at his family’s house for Christmas. The setting is a small town in New York State and the home of Holly Burns (Julia Roberts). The place looks like something out of a Christmas card. It’s the morning of Christmas Eve and nineteen-year-old serious drug addict Ben Burns (Lucas Hedges) has returned home unexpectedly.

His mother is overjoyed at this miracle, as are his two little half-sisters, who worship him. After all, Ben must be doing great if his counselor thought it was a good idea for him to come home for Christmas, right? Well his teenage sister Ivy (Kathryn Newton) and stepfather Neal (Courtney B. Vance) are more wary. Gradually, we learn why: Ben is only in his early stage of recovery, and the scars he has caused his family are still fresh. The next 24 hours are traumatic both for the family and the viewer as we piece together the events that led Ben to rehab, and the way they still reverberate for him back home. Having seen Ben at his worst, Stepfather Neil is skeptical he’ll keep it together however for a few fleeting moments it appears as if Ben’s presence really is a holiday dream come true.

But everything changes when Holly takes him to the local mall and then to a Christmas Eve Mass followed by a group meeting with some of Bens old friends. When Holly makes a series of questionable decisions in the interest of protecting her son, we understand and empathise with her even though she might just end up burying her son. As things spiral out of control over the 24-hour period, “Ben Is Back” shifts gears and becomes as much a thriller as a family drama. Through it all, the magnificence of Julia Roberts performance, also from Hedges, who is the directors son, Vance and the rest of the cast, great justice is done to this finely constructed story of broken family life.

Score: 8 out of 10