22 December 2018 | paul-allaer
"Ben Is Back" vs. "Beautiful Boy": and the winner is...
"Ben Is Back" (2018 release; 103 min.) brings the story of Ben and his family. As the movie opens, it is Christmas Eve and Holly is watching her kids at their church choir practice. Upon returning home, Holly is stunned to see her son Ben waiting for them. It turns out Ben has been in rehab, but left the rehab place so as to spend Christmas with his family. Holly's teenage daughter (and Ben's sister) Ivy thinks this is a huge mistake. "This time it will be different', Holly tells her. When Holly's husband (and Ben's stepdad) Neal comes home, he insists that Ben must return to his rehab. After arguing, Holly and Neal compromise: Ben can stay for 24 hrs. but Holly will be with him every waking second... At this point we are less than 15 min. into the movie but to tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Couple of comments: this is the latest movie from writer-director Peter Hedges ("The Odd Life of Timothy Green"). Here he delves into a topic that is getting much attention these days: a parent dealing with their son's addiction. The entire movie plays out over that 24 hrs. period that Ben shows up out of the blue. The big news is of course that Hedges cast his (Oscar-nominated) son Lucas Hedges as the addict. This is the 3rd movie in a span of 2 months I've seen starring Lucas Hedges: "Mid90s", "Boy Erased" and now this. He truly is one of the up-and-coming talents in Hollywood. But even better is Julia Roberts as his mom Holly. She perfectly conveys the sense of terror and desperation as she tries to keep control of the situation. "We can't save them, but you'll hate yourself if you don't try", comments a woman who lost her daughter to addiction. Which leads me to that other recent movie about the very same topic, albeit brought in a dramatically different way: "Beautiful Boy", starring Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet. When comparing these two films, the shortfalls of "Ben Is Back" become evident very quickly, in particular in the movie's last 45 min. when there are questionable plot holes the size of Manhattan for no apparent reason. In the end, "Ben Is Back" still is worth checking out for the strong performances of Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges. Kathryn Newton (as Ben's sister Ivy) also does quite well. But let's be clear: "Beautiful Boy" is the better movie.
"Ben Is Back" premiered at this year's Toronto International Film Festival to good acclaim. It finally opened this weekend at my local art-house theater here in Cincinnati, and I couldn't wait to see it. The Friday early evening screening where I saw this at was attended poorly (6 people, including myself). I honestly can't see this playing in theaters very long. For that the movie is too downbeat, even more so considering that we are in the Christmas-New Year's holidays. Maybe this will find a wider audience once it expands onto other platforms (and away from the year-end holidays). Either way, I encourage you to check it out, be it in the theater, on VOD, or eventually on DVD/Blu-ray, and draw your own conclusion.