Lucas Hedges and Julia Roberts in a scene from the movie Ben Is Back.
Lucas Hedges and Julia Roberts in a scene from the movie Ben Is Back. Supplied

MOVIE REVIEW: Roberts gives mother role everything she’s got

BEN IS BACK

THREE AND A HALF STARS

Director Peter Hedges

Starring Julia Roberts, Lucas Hedges and Kathryn Newton

Rating: M

Running time 103 minutes

Verdict An incandescent central performance lights up this tale of love and addiction

 

BEN (Lucas Hedges) is 77 days sober - thanks to an enforced stint in a rehab centre (for which his stepdad took out a second mortgage).

When the recovering addict surprises his family with an impromptu visit on Christmas Eve, nobody - least of all him - is confident he'll make it to 78.

But Ben's Tiger Mom puts up one hell of a fight.

Holly Burns (Julia Roberts) is so thrilled to see her troubled son sitting on the front doorstep she suppresses any niggling doubts.

Fixing Ben, his sister Ivy (Kathryn Newton) and their half-siblings (Mia Fowler and Jakari Fraser) a snack, she hugs him a little too hard, laughs at his jokes a few seconds too long.

But when her son's attention is diverted, she quickly hides the cash, jewellery and prescription pills.

Tiger mum Holly Burns (Julia Roberts) discovers the dark underbelly of her pretty town when addict son Ben (Lucas Hedges) returns home.
Tiger mum Holly Burns (Julia Roberts) discovers the dark underbelly of her pretty town when addict son Ben (Lucas Hedges) returns home.

Given the serial offender's track record, Ivy and her stepdad Neal (Courtney B. Vance) are extremely ambivalent about his premature return.

Their fears prove to be grounded when the family home is burgled - yet again - and their beloved dog kidnapped.

Determined to put matters right, Ben revisits his old haunts. Holly accompanies him every step of the way, discovering the dark underbelly of her picture postcard town in the process.

Ponce, the Burns family's pooch, is a clumsy MacGuffin, or plot device, and some of the skeletons in Ben's closet have a femur or two missing.

But the two central performances in this family drama-cum-psychological thriller are so compelling such speed humps barely register.

Julia Roberts gives her performance everything she has got.
Julia Roberts gives her performance everything she has got.

Roberts gives the role of Holly everything she's got - we're talking the full 240 volts - in a performance that spans rage, terror, unutterable grief and unbearable heartbreak.

She's good cop, bad cop, avenger, champion and confidante all rolled into one.

Having recently survived gay conversion therapy, in Joel Edgerton's Boy Erased, Hedges now tests himself by way of the 12 Step program.

It's a nuanced performance of fear and self-loathing.

Directed by Hedges' father, Peter, Ben is Back takes place over the course of 24 hours, which lends the film a clammy urgency that's well suited to the material.

As a portrait of addiction, it's a bit one-dimensional in places, but the mother-son relationship utterly compelling.

 

Ben Is Back opens on January 31


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