Coming hot on the heels of Beautiful Boy, a story about a father trying to understand how his son became a drug addict, comes Ben is Back, another addiction drama in which this time the mother anguishes.
Julia Roberts really sinks her teeth into the role of Holly, a heroic mother who knows the reality of having a drug-addicted son who she refuses to give up on. When 21-year-old son Ben, played by director Peter Hedges' son Lucas (Manchester by the Sea), returns home on Christmas Eve, a range of emotions flicker across Holly's face but the prevailing one is joy at the prodigal son's return.
Ben's two young step-siblings are also thrilled big brother is home but that's where the celebration ends. We follow the family for only 24 hours but the characters all bring the weight of the past with them. It's made clear Ben should return to his rehab program immediately but he's given the chance to have one night at home - however, never allowed out of his mother's sight.
Soon after the story takes an unusual turn when the family dog is kidnapped - by a previous acquaintance of Ben's - and suddenly this domestic drama switches into an all-night crusade to find their pet.
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This change in tack sees Ben revisit his old haunts and previous junkie life with his mother - not the kind of trip any mum wants to take with her child. Here, the character's decisions start to feel less genuine, driven by the need to show us what rock bottom looks like to a drug addict and the impact it has on those close to them.
This is hardly an upbeat, feel-good, festive film. Ben is Back is full of raw emotion, desperation and hope but comes with a layer of gloss that attempts to give the gritty subject a sheen for a broader audience.
Cast: Julia Roberts, Lucas Hedges
Director: Peter Hedges
Running Time: 103 mins
Rating: M (Drug use & offensive language)
Verdict: Julia Roberts works her magic in this grim addiction drama.