Reviewed by Rosemarie Leenerts, Library Assistant
Pulling into the driveway with your three younger kids on Christmas Eve, imagine the joy you would feel seeing your estranged 19-year-old son on your doorstep. Now imagine that thrilling feeling turning to anguish knowing that your son was supposed to be in rehab for opioid abuse, has lied, cheated, and stolen in the past to support his habit, and that this visit, like those of Christmases past, will likely be filled with fear, anger, and anxiety over whether he will use again and the impact that would have on the entire family. This is the tense reunion scene at the beginning of the 2018 film Ben Is Back, starring Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges.
Not typical holiday fare, this well-acted movie is a realistic fictional interpretation of how a family is affected by one member’s addiction, which started years before following an injury. Instead of baking cookies and enjoying fun outings, Holly’s holiday is spent handing out a drug test, hiding prescriptions and jewelry, searching Ben’s pockets, and visiting a cemetery, where she screams at Ben, “Just tell me, son, where do you want me to bury you?”
The plot heats up when, on returning home from church, the family finds their house ransacked. Nothing is gone but the beloved family dog that, we learn, holds significance in Ben’s addiction story. From there, Holly and Ben’s search for the missing pet on the holiest night of the year overturns rocks from Ben’s past that ultimately lead to a gripping, although a bit contrived, life-and-death race.
Ben Is Back, rated R and written and directed by Peter Hedges, is a story about a single family in one 24-hour period, but, watched carefully, viewers may pick up on the subtle finger-pointing at bigger players in the decades-long opioid-abuse epidemic in America, such as Big Pharma and overprescribing doctors.
Ben Is Back is available for checkout and curbside pickup from Herrick Library.