Drug addiction is in the spotlight this season as Hollywood prepares for the release of titles including “Beautiful Boy,” “A Star is Born” and “Ben Is Back.” Director Peter Hedges (“Pieces of April,” “Dan in Real Life”) takes a stab at the subject with “Ben Is Back,” but falls short after using an age-old template — forcing his talented cast to fit the mold.
“Ben Is Back” chronicles the 24 hours following Ben’s arrival home and the events that follow. While the film’s main intent is a realistic portrayal of addiction, several other themes manage to make it onto the screen, including the power of family and motherly love.
A recovering heroin addict, Ben Burns (Lucas Hedges) decides to return home after a long stint in rehab, right in time for the Christmas season.
Upon seeing him sauntering toward the car, Ben’s mother, played by Julia Roberts (“Pretty Women,” “August: Osage County”) feels nothing but overwhelming joy, embracing her son while shedding tears. Ben’s sister, Ivy (Kathryn Newton), is more alarmed than content as she remains in the car, contemplating what Ben’s unprecedented visit means for their family.
Roberts delivers an intense performance as Holly Burns, elevating the drama and creating a constant sense of dread and urgency. Her overbearing style pairs well with Hedges knack for cynicism, which makes room for mounds of character development throughout the film.
“Ben Is Back” shines in its depiction of motherhood. Hedges and Roberts share an on-screen chemistry, which allows the story to become so much more than just the trials and tribulations of a young man struggling with addiction.
Hedges could have profited from a longer runtime, as audiences felt shorted, rather than perplexed, by the end of the film. The story seems to be grasping for straws and running around in circles, climaxing in a less than satisfactory way.
The film suffers from some serious pacing issues, which made for a stark contrast between the first and second act. Somewhere toward the middle of the script, Hedges deviates from his original intent to create a genuine account of addiction to produce an action packed thriller. Some of the sequences were believable, but they became increasingly more outlandish as the film crept to a close.
Up against Oscar contenders such as “Beautiful Boy” and “A Star is Born,” “Ben Is Back” will surely fade out of the limelight. The story, cast and performances make up a near perfect recipe for success, but is executed in such a way that made it anything but memorable.
“Ben is Back” will premiere in theaters nationwide Dec. 7.