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Come awards season, there never fails to be a few movies that get drastically overlooked, such as 2017’s “Detroit” and 2015’s “The Walk” that seem to do everything right. They have compelling stories, outstanding performances, social relevance and are overall great films, but for whatever reason, they fail to make it on the board.
It seems that “Ben Is Back,” the latest film to open at the Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center, is going to be one of those films.
There is very little awards buzz around “Ben Is Back.” It seems to be entirely left out of every awards conversation, which is a real shame because the movie is incredible.
“Ben Is Back” is directed by Peter Hedges –– known for his work as a screenwriter on “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” and “About a Boy” –– and stars his son Lucas Hedges and Julia Roberts.
The story told is one of a young man named Ben who is addicted to drugs. When he randomly leaves rehab and shows up at his family’s house for Christmas, they struggle with whether to accept him back with open arms or leave him to the consequences of his own actions.
The story in “Ben Is Back” could’ve easily gone in two directions. It could’ve focused more on the circumstances and less on the characters, turning the film more into a glorified D.A.R.E. advertisement. Or it could’ve gone in the opposite direction, portraying the characters as legitimate people with flaws and highlighting the changing relationships between them. Thankfully, “Ben Is Back” opts for the second approach.
The family this film is centered around consists of Ben, his sister Ivy, his mother Holly (Roberts), Holly’s husband, Neal and their two children. However, the real focus of the film is the relationship between Ben and his mother.
Over the course of the film, the relationship is developed excellently, and it becomes apparent just how much their connection has changed over the previous decade.
The two undoubtedly loved each other, but Ben didn’t respect his mother all that much, and his mother was a bit too controlling and naive to her son’s maturity. The two spend a lot of time together in the film, and their relationship is established through a mix of the film’s dialogue and subtle interactions between the two. There are a few scenes where they flatly discuss their relationship with each other, but beyond that, you can see the conflict and acceptance in their eyes when they are around each other. Without either saying a word, it’s apparent that Ben doesn’t want to be spending a lot of time with his mother and that his mother still believes Ben is the same innocent kid he had been years prior.
Part of what made their relationship work so well was the performances given by Hedges and Roberts. They were convincing on screen together, and they managed to capture and accentuate that mother/son relationship. They have excellent on-screen chemistry, but they also get moments to shine on their own.
Hedges brings to life this character who often pretends to be someone he’s not, but he doesn’t just throw up a half-hearted facade. Hedges committed to the role and put in the work so his character would feel like a legitimate human being. The audience might be tempted to dislike Ben sometimes, but Hedges and the film as a whole portray the character as someone with many flaws who is still a good person at his core.
“Ben Is Back” is a wonderfully and meticulously crafted film that tackles both the struggles of addiction and how much help you can provide someone. The movie works as well as it does because it chose to focus almost solely on the relationship between Ben and his mother, which provides the audience with a very personal and realistic look at the situation. The characters are relatable and that’s in large part due to the fantastic performances by Hedges and Roberts.
“Ben Is Back” may not be getting a lot of attention from the major awards, but it undoubtedly deserves yours.