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Review: Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges can't sustain messy 'Ben Is Back'

Courtesy of Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions


Lucas Hedges recent career trajectory has been interesting to view; from his Oscar nominated performance in “Manchester by the Sea” to the critical darlings “Lady Bird” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri;” to say he’s picking the correct roles is an understatement. Hedges is choosing characters that suit his talents and range. He was quietly profound in “Boy Erased” and slick in “Mid90’s,” but his latest project “Ben Is Back” - which puts the talented actor in the titular role as a still-in-recovery-drug-addict returning home for Christmas - seems out of place.

This time Hedges is joined by Julie Roberts who's always been immensely likable (even in her most somber portrayals I find myself getting choked up against my better judgement). You only feel that a few times in “Ben is Back” which has been produced with well intentions by writer-director Peter Hedges. The film sees Ben (Hedges - the director’s son) attempting to reconstruct a familial relationship destroyed by his heroin addiction and unhealthy dive into the world of drug trafficking. He sneaks away from his rehab facility to spend the holidays with his family, but he’s clearly not ready to get back to real life. Still, he wants to connect with his half siblings, the family dog (who saved his life after an overdose), and most of all his mother Holly (Roberts), who projects the kind’ve unconditional love that sees past his horrible mistakes. It turns out that Ben, as both a former user and dealer, has procured one to many enemies in his small town. And so on Christmas Eve, vandals break into his home and steal the family dog. Forcing Holly and Ben to find the pup before the little ones awake on Christmas morning.

If that sounds rather murky, it’s not completely useless, as the second half dog-hunt gives Holly a glimpse into Ben’s troubled past, and to learn things a mother should never find out about a son. But “Ben is Back” is so messy about the social issue at its core-the way opioid addiction tears families apart-that hardly any room exists for characters to grow. That’s apparent in Roberts performance: in one instance she’s the good cop, the next she’s the bad-tough-love-cop. This goes on for most of the film and Hedges runs circles around himself that by the time we reach the half-handed conclusion, you’ll be in disbelief.

Grade: C

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