IT’S Christmas Eve in New York. Ben, an addict 77 days sober arrives back at the family home unexpectedly. His Mother Holly is ecstatic, as are his young step-siblings. His sister and stepfather are, however, deeply suspicious of his motives.
Ben insists he’s there with the blessing of his sponsor and has no intention of relapsing but as with all roads to recovery – it is rarely uneventful.
A well made analysis of a strong family being tested by addiction opens up later into an almost thriller/road movie as the more inward looking story tries to give itself a finite purpose and ending – and the film suffers for it.
The is very much a mother/son movie – with Holly getting far more than she bargained for when insisting Ben doesn’t leave her sight. The problem is as we descend into the depths of the drug community we’re also thrown into a pretty tired bunch of imagery that feels too well-trodden.
I’d liked to have seen more of the backstory. How did Ben get there? There’s a fleeting mention of his natural father (Miles’ dad) and it’s hinted that’s where the troubles began but it’s a scab left unpicked.
None of this this will do anything to temper the rise of Lucas Hedges, who turns in another powerhouse performance (Scene stealing in everything from Ladybird to Three Billboards). I see things in him I haven’t seen since Phillip Seymour-Hoffman.
The pressure of being directed by his dad must have been hard, but he’s a sympathetic addict, completely different to Timotheé Chalamet’s version in ‘Beautiful Boy’ late last year. Both are raw, both sneaky, both just scared boys.
Julia Roberts really wows though. The skittish and raw anxiety of Holly and the complete desperation she shows in both wanting to believe her son whilst knowing he’s lying is the films core. Roberts has never been better – and I’m struggling, with the exception of Olivia Colman, to think of a more believable actress.
My main gripe – and it’s one that almost ruined the film for me – I just couldn’t get my head around this being set on Christmas Eve? Am I alone in wondering who these families are that aren’t in complete and utter chaos?
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In this household they realise, thanks to Ben’s return, they need some more gifts for the next morning. So, after just mooching around the house, they take a leisurely drive into the local mall where people are just strolling around having a coffee. There’s time to try on a bunch of clothes. No-one in America panic buys crap on Christmas seemingly. The family then go to church. No food is being prepared, no sellotape is missing, no tempers are fraying. The story then moves from the afternoon through the night right into Christmas Day morning and yet STILL people are just, well, not doing Christmas. There is one scene where we see a drugs run happening at approximately 4am Christmas Day. Nah, mate.
Peter Hedges manages to highlight the hypocrisy in addiction well. Mothers aren’t allowed access emergency resuscitation drugs from an all-night pharmacy because of lack of paperwork, yet addicts are showered in needles by the same cashier.
I enjoyed this, the performances are fantastic – but I preferred it without the drama, if that makes sense.
Ben is Back 103 mins (15)
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