It’s Christmas and the Burns family is preparing for the holidays. Unexpectedly they are joined by their son Ben (Lucas Hedges). Mother Holly (Julia Roberts) is overjoyed to see him, while his stepfather Neal (Courtney B. Vance) and his sister Ivy (Kathryn Newton) are much more suspicious of his sudden appearance. It soon becomes clear that Ben’s return to the family does not mean that he has left the drugs behind. But Holly isn’t ready to give up on him.
Seeing Ben Is Back in such proximity of Beautiful Boy, one can’t help but compare the two, and it is painfully obvious that Ben Is Back fails where Beautiful Boy succeeds. But even without the comparison, Ben Is Back falls short of the mark.
Ben Is Back gives us the Hollywood version of addiction, including a dramatic last minute reanimation that is only possible thanks to a faithful dog. It was all just a little too much and a little too big and a little too dramatic to work for me.
And there are some clichés here that I could have done without because they feed so much int gender stereotypes: the mother that never gives up, and drags her daughter into the same cycle of always giving everything for her son/brother. The only person who manages to set boundaries (important! Right, too!) is Neal, the stepfather. The whole “women sacrifice, men say no” angle does get a little softened because Neal is the stepfather and not the biological father, but still.
The film gets bonus points for the fact that it points out how privileged Ben still is, despite everything and that a poor, Black kid would never get the chances he gets. The cast also isn’t bad at all.
But overall, it just didn’t convince. I couldn’t connect with it as I did with Beautiful Boy because the clichés it uses get in its own way and keep it from the emotional honesty the story would have needed.
Summarizing: didn’t work.