BEN IS BACK – Drugs are Bad MmmmKay

BEN IS BACK is the next in a line of teenage drug “issue” movies. Think BASKETBALL DIARIES (masterpiece), last year’s BEAUTIFUL BOY (decent), and the granddaddy best of the lot of them, REQUIEM FOR A DREAM. I call BEN IS BACK decent, as was BEAUTIFUL BOY, because they are so similar and so just “good” in what they have accomplished but never reached the peak of the message and the moment that truly rips your heart out and shows you how bad drugs can be. Something BASKETBALL DIARIES and REQUIEM FOR A DREAM achieved and then went extra.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot to see and love with BEN IS BACK, it is out tomorrow, 31st January in Australia, from Roadshow Films. It is rated M and runs for 103mins.

Ben is Back Lucas Hedges image
Lucas Hedges

BY JASON KING

BEN IS BACK SYNOPSIS:

BEN IS BACK follows the charming yet troubled Ben Burns (Hedges), who returns home to his unsuspecting family one fateful Christmas Eve. Ben’s wary mother Holly Burns (Roberts) welcomes her beloved son’s return, but soon learns he is still very much in harm’s way. During the 24 hours that may change their lives forever, Holly must do everything in her power to avoid the family’s downfall.

Ben is Back Mia Fowler, Julia Roberts and Jakari Fraser image
Mia Fowler, Julia Roberts and Jakari Fraser

THE CHEMISTRY WINS BUT THE PLOT GETS LOST:

Two things that made me love BEN IS BACK. Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges. Both on my list of favourite actors and both up to the task of giving one hell of an entertaining movie. Their solo performances and their duet chemistry scenes are a powerhouse and the saving grace of BEN IS BACK. Lucas’s own dad, Peter Hedges, wrote and directed the film and while Julia was on board as the “mother” for the film she insisted Peter give the lead role to his own son. Oddly they never thought they would work together. I am glad they did.

Sadly it is the film’s direction that suffers, not the overall directing of the movie, the actual plot’s direction. It is basically three stories that just don’t mesh. There is a family drama with the drug-problem child returning to the family home. Pure drama, a sad tale told to death. Then the movie takes a much darker turn and heads to an epic plot thread, a mother/ son road trip to all the terrible places Ben visited when in the midst of his drug life. This was one epic storyline and one I would have preferred as the entire movie. A mother visiting her worst fears; dark and evil places her son has been over the years for drugs, drug taking and abuse. A walk through a mother’s hell. Sign me up!!

But then it takes another turn when Ben insists on dumping his mother and following the journey on his own. The film lost me right there. The middle story had the best chemistry and the best original plot for a redemption story. This isn’t based on a true story, this can have a positive ending. When Ben dumped his mum the plot took a step backwards and, to me, felt like your regular cliched drug movie.

Ben is Back Lucas Hedges image
Lucas Hedges

INCREDIBLE CASTING:

As mentioned earlier Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges just own this movie. I am slightly biased as I worship both their work, especially Julia, she just lights up every frame she is in. I loved a scene where she looks briefly looks after an aged man suffering from alzheimer’s, the doctor who originally prescribed “non addictive” painkillers to her son that started the journey of his addictions. It was mean and it was what most mothers would do in her situation if given the chance. And seeing her react to the houses they visit where her son had injected, or been sexually abused in his desperation for drugs was a highlight. I needed more of that. It was fun but also dark and painful.

Hedges can do no wrong, his entire acting journey is going from strength to strength and I cannot wait to see what he does next.

The rest of the roles are much smaller, and for me, inconsequential, although I would have liked to have seen more of Ben’s sister in the movie, Kathryn Newton. She had a really strong presence that could have benefitted from a larger character in the screenplay.

Ben is Back Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges image
Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges

IN CONCLUSION:

BEN IS BACK is a fantastically decent “drug-problem” dramatic film. The plot is a little confused at times but the performances are one hell of a strong back bone holding it all together. I need more movies where Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges are related.

YOUR CRITIC:

Jason King owns, writes and edits Salty Popcorn and Spooning Australia. He is a movie, food, restaurant, wine, chocolate, bacon, burger and brussels sprouts addict. He is a member of the Australian Film Critics Association and has been in the Australian movie industry for 26yrs. Furthermore he loves watching people trip over and is Leonardo DiCaprio’s biggest fan. 

** Images used are courtesy of various sources on Google or direct from the distributor or publisher. Credit has been given to photographers where known – images will be removed on request.