Movie Review: 'Ben is Back'

John Thomas

Sometimes addictions are so easy to acquire that persons don’t realize what’s happening until it’s too late. Whereas, there are many positive additions one can embrace such as to love, to work and to the family, there are also the perilous addictions to alcohol and drugs. In truth however, addicts really do have the choice to live with the habit or extricate themselves and be free. To be free, however, requires help, sometimes over a long period of time.

Holly Burns (Julia Roberts) is raising two families under the same roof - two young-adult children from a previous marriage and two small children by her current husband, Neal (Courtney B. Vance). Ivy Burns (Kathryn Newton), the older sibling, fits nicely into the new family; her 19 year old brother, Ben (Lucas Hedges) fits nicely into a drug addiction rehabilitation center - until he doesn’t. Ben returns home the morning before Christmas with the “approval” of his sponsor to spend Christmas surrounded by his loved ones - or so Ben claims.

His return is enthusiastically embraced, if warily, by Holly, the small children and his dog; but not so much by others. Neal and Ivy are aware of Ben’s issues, his reputation around town and don’t want him back – especially during the holidays as the previous holiday season together was a disaster. It doesn’t take long after for his return to the small, suburban community for his presence to be known, where he had created such devastation as an addict. Holly is proud to show the “clean” Ben to the community; the drug community is also happy at his return but for darker reasons.

Before finally confronting his drug problem, Ben committed numerous crimes from breaking into homes and stealing, to turning his friends into addicts and finally contributing to their deaths. It’s easy to understand he’s no longer welcome everywhere. Even Holly is not certain of his transformation so, as a precautionary measure, hides her prescription drugs and jewelry in secret places throughout her bedroom. In spite of her precautions and positive attitude, Ben slips back into the drug culture where he is coerced into participating in one more drug deal.

Prior to allowing him to remain home for Christmas, he had agreed to Holly’s demand that he remain in her sight at all times - that didn’t last long. He escapes from her presence and returns to the drug dealers to whom he is obligated from his previous drug-fueled life. He disappears and she can’t find him. Searching around town for most of the night she finally finds his unmoving body lying on the floor in the attic of an abandoned building. Is Ben really back or is he gone for good?

Directed by Peter Hedges (Credits: Dan in Real Life, Pieces of April) this is a “should see movie that runs for 103 Minutes.


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