2018 had a lot of heavy dramas centering around parents and children. We had Boy Erased, Beautiful Boy, and Ben is Back. Two of them have starred Lucas Hedges and two have also focused on sons struggling with addiction. While I haven’t gotten a chance to see Beautiful Boy, I did see Boy Erased and just saw Ben is Back today. Both of these films have really touched me and I’m very excited to see more from Lucas Hedges in the future. Not only has Hedges been great, but he’s had incredible women to play opposite him (Julia Roberts and Nicole Kidman). So what makes Ben is Back such a touching journey?
The film really hits the ground running. We open with Ben (Lucas Hedges) surprising his family by returning home from rehab for Christmas. They agree to let him stay if he abides by their strict rules to keep him clean while he’s there. That’s all I can really say without spoiling anything, which I won’t do because I want you to have a fresh experience. So the performances and characters are really what makes this film work, Holly and Ben are the center of everything here. You may think that this film is going to be all about Ben from the title but there really isn’t a “main character” here, there are two. In fact, I’d say the story is more about Roberts’s character Holly than it is Ben.
The performances given are truly amazing. much like in Boy Erased, Lucas Hedges turns in a great performance. But the performance that will blow you away is Julia Roberts. I’ve seen her in many films and have loved her work, but this is the best I’ve seen from her in a while. She is able to be both sensitive and tough as nails. When she needs to be tough, she brings it all the way, and you’re completely engaged because of how unflinching it is.
I’ve never known someone going through drug addiction and have never been through it myself, but I feel like the way this film portrays it is very realistic. The need to be raw and realistic, to bare all you might say, is so necessary when dealing with a topic like this. We feel that realism through the intensity and frankness of the acting and through the script. The script gives ample opportunity for us to get to know these people and throws in things that helps us see the gravity of past actions that were done. In order to understand where Ben and Hollie are at now, we need to know where they came from. The film takes a turn towards the middle that I didn’t really expect it to, but I’m glad it did because it just further shows the strength in this mother/son relationship and that there’s nothing a mother wouldn’t do for her son. There are several scenes in particular that are so intense and powerful that it’s impossible to look away, you feel completely eclipsed by what’s going on.
The ending is really well done, everything comes to a head and you feel what the characters are feeling. It’s the kind of ending where everyone in the audience is quiet and completely focused on what’s going on. Of course no spoilers, but just suffice to say that the way it ends is so perfect because of what the film spends two hours setting up. The final scene further emphasized Hollie’s love for her son, and it’s pretty damn hard not to shed a tear. I want everyone to see this film, especially families. It just does everything right, from the fantastic performances to the raw, unrelenting script, and the chemistry between Roberts and Hedges. The only real negative I can think of is some of the pacing at the beginning. It’s very minor but the pacing feels better in the middle and end.