Pros: Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges; actions take place in one day; developments in the second half of the film Cons: monotonous premise of the film, which is spoiled by the cinematography “The Return of Ben” / Ben Is Back
Directed by Peter Hedges
Starring: Julia Roberts (Holly Burns), Lucas Hedges (Ben Burns), Kathryn Newton (Ivy Burns), Alexandra Park (Kara K), Courtney B. Vance (Neil Burns), etc.
Studios Black Bear Pictures, 30West, Color Force
Year of release 2018 (in Ukraine 2019)
The desire to work on the set with Lucas Hedges is quite understandable – by the age of 22, the actor had starred in the films Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Lady Bird, Erased Identity, Mid-90s and was nominated for Oscar Award for Best Supporting Actor in the drama Manchester by the Sea. Such an impressive list came to Lucas in just a few years of hard work and did not at all become the reason for family ties with the famous director.
In Ben Is Back, Julia Roberts plays a mother whose eldest son unexpectedly arrives from rehab. She is ready to accept him on the condition that he does not lose his temper and does not look for drugs. Surrounded by his younger brother and sisters, Ben tries to control himself, but old habits constantly remind themselves. When one strange event occurs in the house, the guy has to remember the details of his past, with which almost every street in the suburbs is associated. At these moments, his mother will be next to him, going through the stages of acceptance and denial, without ceasing to believe in her son’s salvation.
The film moves rather slowly and at first gets a little tiring with the family scenes. But at some point the drama picks up a fast pace, revealing new sides to Ben’s story. The director limits the action of the film to 24 hours, which tell the mother much more about her son than the years spent with him. This fuels the internal conflicts of the main characters, increasing the tension of the ending.
“Ben’s Returns” does not provide a detailed answer to the question of why people consciously take the path of addiction. He talks about something else – about how life turns into an endless struggle, filled with remorse, panic, denial and attempts to maintain composure. In this, Lucas Hedges merges with his character, leaving no doubt about Ben’s internal torment. But the heroine of Julia Roberts, who holds on to her son with all her might, suffers even more torment.
In such roles, Julia Roberts is always magnificent – the actress becomes the embodiment of maternal love and devotion. She engages in dialogue, reasons, jokes and shows intelligence. Roberts very emotionally demonstrates how difficult it is to love a person with an addiction who cannot be trusted, but in whom a parent wants to believe.
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It’s hard to do without visual flashbacks in this story, but director Peter Hedges manages to do it. Meetings with people in the present tense and the protagonist’s own confessions serve as a guide to Ben’s past. This is more powerful than visual examples, and the feeling of unease is provided by the camera, which creates the effect of being in the car with the main characters. Thanks to the camera work, Ben’s first appearance in front of his family is frightening and alarming. You experience the same emotions when you meet a stranger in a hood on the street – it’s easier to wait and step aside than to talk to him, understanding his intentions.
Unfortunately, because of the same cameraman, you want to quit the film after the first minutes of viewing – it can be difficult to withstand a slightly shaking camera, especially since the beginning of the film is quite monotonous. This is a shame, considering that the second half is where the film really gets interesting.
In its plot and line of parental devotion, the film “Ben is Back” is reminiscent of another drama about drug addiction – the film “Beautiful Boy” with Timothée Chalamet (the premiere of these films took place almost simultaneously at the Toronto International Film Festival). “Bring Back Ben” is in some places inferior to “Beautiful Boy”, which was based on the true story of a father who spent years trying to return his son to a normal life. However, both films are important and both are worth watching.
“Ben’s Return” is an emotional story that explores the theme of the fight against addiction. Thanks to Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges, the film touches and remains in the memory.