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Saturday, December 15, 2018
By Deepa Gahlot

Ben Is Back
Peter Hedges
Cast: Julia Roberts, Lucas Hedges, Courtney B. Vance, Kethryn Newton and others
Rating: * *

Holly Burns, in Ben Is Back, played by Julia Roberts with a missionary zeal,would remind audiences here of Indian, son-worshipping mothers, for whom their darling boys could do no wrong.

If her son Ben (Lucas Hedges) became a drug addict, it was the fault of the doctor who overdosed himon painkillers; if he caused the death of a friend, it was her fault for being so gullible; if Ben is lacks a father figure it’s because she divorced his father. She is the kind of Dragon Mom who could drive her kindly second husband (Courtney B. Vance) and four kids to despair; luckily for them, she focuses all her energies on Ben, the supposedly weak one.

Ben has been in rehab for his drug addiction, and runs away from there to be home for Christmas. Except for Hollywho looks ecstatic, Ben’s stepfather Neal and sister Ivy (Kathryn Newton) are not at all pleased; the two half siblings are too small to know what is going on. Holly is cautious enough to hide prescription pills and jewellery, but otherwise protests against sending Ben back. Instead, she insists shewill keep an eye on him, and even stands outside the open bathroom door, making reassuring sounds.

The second half of the film directed by Peter Hedges (Lucas is his real-life son), becomes like a thriller when the family’s dog is stolen, and Holly goes along with Ben to get him back. In the absence of a clearly articulated backstory, it is hard to sympathise with Ben, or understand Holly’s blind adoration. Neal, who is black, says in exasperation at one point, when Holly’s mollycoddling of her son gets too much to take, “If he were black, he’d be in jail right now.”

Another film this year, Felix Van Groeningen’s Beautiful Boy, dealt with the relationship between a drug addict and parent—father in this case—and was much more moving than this one, which has just too much melodrama for its own good, though Julia Roberts gives it all the ferocity she has got. Unfortunately, it’s a show-offy performance meant to get on to awards shortlists. The film, well-intentioned though it is, remains mostly underwhelming.

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