February 25, 2019  (Web Review)

Ben Is Back

Lionsgate, 103 min., R, DVD: $19.99, Blu-ray/DVD Combo: $24.99, Mar. 5

Reviewer rating: 2.0/4

In the midst of the current opioid crisis, the theme of addiction here is obviously relevant. “I grew up in a family that was ravaged by alcoholism, so this type of material is deep in my bones,” says writer/director Peter Hedges, who cast his son, Lucas, as the titular 19-year-old who becomes dependent on prescription drugs. In upstate New York on Christmas Eve, when Ben unexpectedly returns from rehab, his appearance throws the Burns family into chaos. While Ben’s mother Holly (Julia Roberts) is delighted to see him, she’s doggedly determined to keep him clean for the next 24 hours. Her husband/Ben’s stepdad (Courtney B. Vance), who took out a second mortgage to pay for Ben’s treatment, is more cynical, as is Ben’s sister (Kathryn Newton), particularly after the family returns from Christmas Eve church services to find the house ransacked and their dog Ponce stolen. As Ben searches for Ponce, he encounters destructive people from his past and gets sucked back into the dangerous world of drug-dealing. “I’m not worth it,” Ben wails. So it becomes Holly’s quest to prove to Ben that, ultimately, his life is worth saving. Unfortunately, while well-intentioned, the film is also erratically paced and uneven. Hedges introduces pivotal characters, including the doctor-with-dementia who prescribed Ben’s painkillers, the mother of Ben’s girlfriend who overdosed, and a woman who used to buy drugs from Ben, only to have these people rapidly evaporate. Optional. (S. Granger)