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film review

Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges star in Ben is Back.Mark Schafer/Courtesy of Elevation

  • Ben is Back
  • Written and directed by Peter Hedges
  • Starring Julia Roberts, Lucas Hedges and Courtney B. Vance
  • Classification 14A
  • 103 minutes

Rating:

3.5 out of 4 stars

Right out of the gate, it was obvious that Lucas Hedges, now 22, is the real deal, one of those actors who convey an inner life, seemingly without effort. When his characters are angry, their shame and vulnerability are visible, too; when they’re happy, a sadness still flickers under the surface. He’s fascinating.

He earned an Oscar nomination for Manchester by the Sea and is currently ripping through three films: Mid90s, Boy Erased, and Ben is Back – in a role written and directed by his father, Peter Hedges (Pieces of April).

On Christmas Eve, Ben (Hedges) takes an unadvised trip home to upstate New York from rehab, where his family greets him with the wariness of those who have been let down many times. Through one long day and freezing night, the tension keeps tightening as his mother Holly (Julia Roberts) tries to keep an eye on him.

It’s an interesting twist on the usual addiction drama – it’s not the downfall, it’s will he stay clean? – and it works. If you’re not invested, you’re not watching.

Which brings me to Hedges’ co-lead, Roberts. I’m a reluctant admirer: Though I never can keep my eyes off her, I usually find her distressingly showy. Here, however – perhaps responding to Hedges’ unshowy vibe – she’s as natural, and as good, as I’ve ever seen her.

Ben Is Back opens Dec. 14 in Toronto