The Reel Review
When Ben, a recovering opioid addict only 77 days sober, makes a surprise visit home the day before Christmas, more than just the expected “will he or won’t he relapse again?” drama unfolds in this nail-biter starring Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges.
What makes this film from writer/director Peter Hedges (Lucas’ father) more compelling than 2018’s other addiction drama Beautiful Boy, is a more gritty, riveting story with an immediate sense of urgency, and a more in-depth look at the emotional and physical toll it takes on the addict’s loved ones. Julia Roberts gives one of her best performances in years as the conflicted mother Holly, who, while elated to see her oldest son, frantically hides the medicine and her jewelry upon his arrival. Lucas Hedges, on the heels of his excellent performance in Boy Erased, is convincing as the drug addict who struggles between wanting to be well and his craving to self-medicate to escape the horrible shame over his drug-related past. And Kathryn Newton (Three Billboards Over Ebbing, Missouri and Blockers) also stands out as the younger sister who wisely sees Ben’s arrival for what it is – someone in trouble who’s about to cause trouble. A string of events throws Ben and Holly together on a harrowing, eye-opening journey, in which Holly learns a lot more about his past. Despite a couple of contrived scenes that don’t quite ring true to the rest of the relatable story, it is still a thought-provoking film that will hit home for anyone touched by the never-ending battle with drug addiction.
• 22-year-old Lucas Hedges, who studied acting at the University of North Carolina, first appeared in Wes Anderson’s dramedy Moonrise Kingdom and earned an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor in 2016’s Manchester By The Sea.
• Lucas Hedges and Timothée Chalamet each starred in movies about drug addiction in 2018. In 2017, they, along with Ben is Back co-star Kathryn Newton, all appeared in Lady Bird.
• Ben is Back co-star Kathryn Newton and Lucas Hedges both appeared in 2017’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)