Ben is back. He wasn't supposed to be back. He may not even be allowed to be back. But here he is. Standing in the driveway of his family's house on Christmas Eve. Seventy-seven days into recovery.
Ben's mother is overjoyed. And understandably alarmed. She misses her son, of course. But she doesn't miss what had become of him. In fact, Ben's seeking for his drug addiction was the only truly good news in their mutual lives for quite some time. With Ben now suddenly out of rehab though, alarm bells are going off all over the place.
So sets the stage for Peter Hedges' poignant family addiction drama, Ben in Back. Julia Roberts plays Ben's mother. Lucas Hedges plays Ben. And if the reviews are any indication, both actors are at their best.
The consensus is especially resounding regarding Roberts portrayal of Ben's mother, Holly Burns, with accolades coming in from The New Republic to The Hollywood Reporter. That Roberts is at her best as a mom trying to deal with a son who's at his worst makes a certain poetic sense. It also makes for compelling cinema.
Consider Ben is Back to be an inverse Beautiful Boy, which we wrote about here last October. Where Boy chronicled the trials and tribulations between an addicted son and his father, Ben is devoted to a addicted son and his mother. For all its darkness, Boy had the benefit of being set in sunny Southern California. Ben has no such buffer. If anything, the flick's harsh Northeastern setting turns a bleak story even bleaker.
Then again, family addiction stories are generally beyond bleak to begin with. And all the harrowing elements that characterize such tales happen just as easily in a sun-kissed paradise, as they do in a storm-swept suburb. So setting is pretty much besides the point.
What's never beside the point is the toll addiction takes on the family. Excuses that lead to exasperation. Omissions that become evidence. Disbelief that begets distrust.
Indeed, addiction completely alters the family dynamic. Not just between family members, mind you (though of course there is that). But often between the individuals themselves. We second guess ourselves. Twice. Then we change our minds. We go against our instinct. Then try to convince ourselves we're operating on faith. We disavow our best laid plans. Then pretend to be sticking to the script. It's a constant tug of war with ourselves. And we've no choice but to pull with all of our might.
The things we do for love are as fathomless as the things we'll do for a loved one. But how does that apply once we've seen all the things they'll do for drugs? It's a question Ben is Back asks and answers with great depth and even greater heart.