On Christmas Day for the thirtieth year in a row I saw a movie. This streak began in 1989 with “Steel Magnolias” which was the film that earned Julia Roberts her first Oscar nomination. This year it was “Ben is Back” making it the sixth time my Christmas Movie has featured Julia Roberts.
I wanted to see this film for her, Lucas Hedges and for the subject matter.
I had mixed feelings about the film after seeing it. Without a doubt the strength was the acting. The first half of the film is way better than the second half. The first half of the film is a nice portrait of how an addict returning home affects a family. On the surface this film has a lot in common with “Beautiful Boy”.
Both films are about a parent and a drug addicted child. However, there are many differences. “Beautiful Boy” goes deep into the horrors of drug use and co-dependence while “Ben is Back” shows the tricky line newly clean addicts walks but at the end of the day it glorifies co-dependence. The film goes off the rails about halfway when it goes from being a family drama to a thriller.
It’s too bad because it loses its mojo because it could have been a truly great film. I wish the film had a different ending or an entirely differently second half.
Despite the flaws in the second half of the film the acting is fantastic. Julia Roberts has always had an abundance of charisma but as she gets older her talent shines brighter and brighter. This performance is right up there with the best of her screen performances during her long and legendary career.
Lucas Hedges once again shows he can do it all.
There are good supporting performances as well including by Courtney B. Vance, but this is all about Roberts and Hedges.
I remember Siskel and Ebert once arguing if you can recommend the performances in a film but not the film itself. I don’t think you can, so I do recommend seeing “Ben is Back” for the great performances by Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges but I do have to warn people that the second half of the film is a bit of mess including very poor ending.
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Here is a description:
Justin Gomez and his sister, Terri, have never been close. Separated by nine years and distant in adulthood, Justin and Terri have little in common, except for the love of her three children. In the days before they embark on a road trip to visit the father that once abandoned them and their now deceased mother, both Terri and Justin are dealing with unexpected changes in their lives. Justin surprisingly realizes he might want more than a series of one night stands after a first date goes unexpectedly well. After a lifetime of being a strong type A personality, Terri is forced to confront the reality of the end of her marriage. As they hit the road, with Terri’s children in tow, they find themselves forced to rely on and confide in each other following a devastating event. Confronted with memories from the past and challenges from the present, Terri and Justin must dig deep and unearth the truth about themselves and their parents in order to build a new family based on their love for each other.