Ben is Back

Written and directed by Oscar-nominated screenwriter Peter Hedges best-known for 2007’s Dan in Real Life and adapting the screenplay for 2002’s About a Boy, Ben is Back is an emotionally powerful indie drama that provides a glimpse into the current opioid crisis through one family’s struggles, anchored by a terrific cast. The plot takes place over 24 hours after the unexpected return of the nineteen-year-old Ben Burns, played by the excellent Oscar-nominated young actor Lucas Hedges who also happens to be the filmmaker’s son. We eventually learn that he has been at a drug rehab facility, and, over the course of the film, we are given greater details into how he got addicted and how it has adversely affected his family. His mother Holly Burns, played by Oscar winner Julia Roberts who deserves an Oscar nomination for this role, is extremely happy that her troubled son has come home for Christmas, but she still remains cautious and ensures that he is sober and stays out of trouble. Ben’s African-American stepfather Neal, played by Emmy winner Courtney B. Vance best known for his role as Johnnie Cochran in the 2016 FX series about O.J. Simpson, along with his sister Ivy, played by Kathryn Newton, are less than thrilled about his return and remind Holly that Ben has caused so much harm in the past that he may do it again on this visit. The remainder of the story follows Ben along with Holly, at Ben’s reluctance, as they venture into the underbelly of their small town’s illicit drug industry to retrieve the family dog. Meeting with his former drug dealers and drug-addicted friends, Ben must face his own demons and struggles to stop himself from relapsing, which he knows would almost definitely have tragic consequences. At the same time, Holly grapples with the difficult circumstances of her own son’s life; while still being a loving and devoted mother, she must remain extremely strict with Ben in order to help him overcome his addiction. Although it is very much a personal journey, the movie vividly reveals the extent to which the opioid crisis in today’s society is destroying the lives of previously normal healthy teenagers and the families who must deal with their loved ones’ criminal behaviors without really knowing how to help them stay clean. It shows that the epidemic affects all communities no matter the class status; for instance, Ben comes from a upper-middle-class suburban family living in a relatively peaceful small town. Despite his good upbringing, he spirals out of control and becomes heavily addicted to such powerful drugs as heroin and cocaine after his physician prescribes him narcotic painkillers. Overall, although it is very difficult to watch at times, I thought the film, with its compelling script and top-notch acting performances, is an extremely important work that provides the audience with a much-needed exploration of the opioid epidemic ravaging the United States.

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