Starring: Julia Roberts, Lucas Hedges, Courtney B Vance, and Katherine Newton.
Directed By: Peter Hedges
Where i Watched it: Netflix
English Audio Description Available?: Yes
Description Provided By: Zoo Digital
Description Written By: Ed Robinson
Description Narrated By: Jared Bloom
The Plot: It’s sad that a sub-genre of films have developed around the idea of families dealing with the fallout of a family member becoming addicted to painkillers. In this entry, Ben (Hedges) has that struggle, a returns home after his mother (Roberts) answers his question of “What do you want for Christmas?” With “You.” So he leaves rehab, and, despite being 97 days sober, is treated severely for leaving rehab early, and his mom and step father agree to let him stay for Christmas before sending him back, but they keep him on a tight leash. But, after some people break into their house and steal some things, along with his dog, Ben puts himself and his sobriety on the line to save his dog for Christmas. His mother, meanwhile frantically looks for her son she assumes will overdose. It’s a happy film.
What Works: I’ve seen this film. It was called Beautiful Boy, but instead of being a mother/son film, it was a father/son film, and there wasn’t a dog to rescue. Here, Julia Roberts is the standout, as she navigates a Lifetime Movie of the week version of this story, full of all the predictable beats you would think this film would follow. I spent most of the film predicting the direction of each scene, but still being impressed with her performance.
Lucas Hedges, who i honestly think is overrated, is barely challenged here by his father. His father, who oddly chose to direct this film, a rather personal tale, and cast his son as the drug addict, doesn’t do much to help Hedges, but was he ever going to outshine Roberts anyway? In my opinion, he didn’t outshine either Casey Affleck or Michelle Williams, and he still managed a nomination for Manchester By The Sea.
What Doesn’t Work: Like I said, this story is becoming more and more prevalent. We just had an entire limited series, Dopesick, that was phenomenal and featured a stunning performance from kaitlyn Dever. And, Timothy Chalamet was better in Beautiful Boy, which also featured a very underappreciated performance from Steve Carell.
So, Ben might be back, but he didn’t bring anything new. This film is formulaic on a topic that feels too new to already have a formula. It’s far too predictable, and Peter Hedges didn’t take any risks, nor does he push his son to a better performance.
The Blind Perspective: Since there aren’t many characters to follow, I would say that I’m not sure if the fact that I couldn’t remember the names of Ben’s siblings as probably the fault of the screenplay making them uninteresting. But, as far as all the times where one of the characters kind of just stares off like they’re thinking about something, or looking at something, I felt like I might have missed some stuff. The only way I would know that is if I had watched this with a sighted person so I could ask. There just are too many quiet moments, an it made me wonder, is there nothing else to describe? Is this film that basic?
Final Thoughts: A rather average film lifted by a truly noteworthy performance by Julia Roberts, who absolutely doe not phone this one in. She’s in the zone, and she goes for it. unfortunately, she had much more faith in Peter hedges than she should have, and saw something in a script that wasn’t there. Ben Is Back is just too predictable, but I do love watching a fantastic performance even in a mediocre movie.
Final Grade: B-