Ben Is Back
Addict Unexpectedly Arrives Home for Christmas in Dysfunctional Family Drama

  Holly (Julia Roberts) and Neal (Courtney B. Vance) are raising a family in a quaint country home in upstate New York ostensibly far removed from the sort of woes which plague the inner city. It’s Christmas Eve, and we meet Holly in church where she’s patiently watching three of her four kids practicing for the Christmas pageant.

  However, looks can be deceiving, since missing from the idyllic picture is her eldest child, Ben (Lucas Hedges). For, the troubled 19-year-old has been living at a drug rehab center where he’s managed to keep clean for the past 77 days. 

  But Ben has left the facility without permission to be with the folks over the holidays. And the trouble starts when he breaks into the house when nobody’s there upon his arrival. 

  Understandably, Holly and Neal have different reactions to Ben’s return. She naively welcomes her Prodigal Son with open arms. Meanwhile, his African-American stepdad is very skeptical about allowing the addict to stay, pointing out that, if he were black, he’d probably be in prison rather than a halfway house. 

  Neal’s not only concerned about the prospect of Ben using again, but about the welfare of Lacey (Mia Fowler) and Liam (Jakari Fraser), his impressionable, young offspring with Holly. By contrast, teenage stepdaughter Ivy (Kathryn Newton) is well aware of Ben’s tendency to relapse, and is dead set against an impromptu reunion.

  Unfortunately, headstrong Holly gets the final say. Against her better judgment and Ben’s own warning that he can’t be trusted, she agrees to a one-day visit. What ensues is a harrowing 24-hour nightmare the gullible mom will come to regret.

  Thus unfolds Ben Is Back, a timely cautionary tale written and directed by Peter Hedges (Pieces of April). It stars his son Lucas in the title role opposite Julia Roberts who proves quite convincing as a mom in denial who becomes increasingly frazzled over the course of the misadventure. 

  As chilling a depiction of the suburban opioid epidemic as you are apt to find onscreen.

Very Good (3 stars)
Rated R for drug use and pervasive profanity
Running time: 103 minutes
Production Studio: Black Bear Pictures / 30 West / Color Force
Studio: LD Entertainment / Roadside Attractions / Lionsgate

 

OPENING THIS WEEK
Kam’s Kapsules
Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun
For movies opening Dec. 21, 2018

 

WIDE RELEASES

Aquaman (PG-13 for action, violence and some profanity) Jason Momoa stars as the legendary DC character in this origins tale which finds the reluctant superhero forced to face his destiny as king of Atlantis in order to defend the underwater kingdom and the rest of the planet from his power-hungry half-brother (Patrick Wilsson). With Amber Heard, Willem Dafoe, Dolph Lundgren, Djimon Hounsou and Nicole Kidman.

Ben Is Back (R for drug use and pervasive profanity) Lucas Hedges plays the title character in this coming-of-age drama about a troubled teen who arrives home unexpectedly on Christmas Eve after running away from a drug treatment center. With Julia Roberts, Courtney B. Vance and Kathryn Newton.

Bumblebee (PG-13 for action and violence) Spinoff of the Transformers franchise revolving around the adventures of a young autobot (Dylan O’Brien) resuscitated by an 18-year-old (Hailee Steinfeld) after being found battle-scarred and broken in a junkyard along the California coast. Cast includes John Cena, Angela Bassett, Len Cariou and Justin Theroux.

The Favourite (R for profanity, nudity and graphic sexuality) Olivia Colman portrays Queen Anne [1665-1714] in this biopic revolving around the bitter battle between the Duchess of Marlborough (Rachel Weisz) and a servant (Emma Stone) for the frail monarch’s friendship and affections. With Emma Delves, Faye Daveney and Paul Swaine.

Mary Poppins Returns (PG for mature themes and brief action) Emily Blunt assumes the title role in this musical sequel which finds the magical nanny reunited with the now-grown Michael (Ben Whishaw) and Jane Banks (Emily Mortimer) in the wake of a family tragedy. With Lin-Manuel Miranda, Colin Firth and Meryl Streep.

Second Act (PG-13 for profanity and crude sexual references) Fish-out-of-water comedy about a 40-year-old sales clerk (Jennifer Lopez) who lands a dream job she isn’t qualified for with help of a doctored resume. Cast includes Milo Ventimiglia, Vanessa Hudgens and Charlyne Yi.

Welcome to Marwen (PG-13 for violence, profanity, mature themes, disturbing images and suggestive content) Fact-based drama about a transvestite (Steve Carell) left with amnesia after a violent, bias attack who tries to recover his memory by building a miniature World War II village in his back yard. Support cast includes Janelle Monae, Leslie Mann, Diane Kruger and Eiza Gonzalez. (In English, French and German with subtitles.)

 

INDEPENDENT & FOREIGN FILMS

Cold War (R for sexuality, nudity and profanity) Romance drama, set behind the Iron Curtain in the 1950s, chronicling the unlikely relationship of a celebrated musical director (Tomasz Kot) and an aspiring, young singer (Joanna Kulig) from a humble background. With Borys Szyc, Agata Kulesza and Cedric Kahn. (In Polish, French, Russian, German, Italian and Croatian.)

Swing Kids (Unrated) Musical drama, set at an American POW camp during the Korean War, revolving around a rebellious prisoner (Oh Jung-Se) who forms a tap dancing team with the help of a guard (Jared Grimes) who once worked on Broadway. Cast includes Ross Kettle, Hye-soo Park and Matthew Darcy. (In Korean with subtitles)

They Shall Not Grow Old (R for graphic images) World War I documentary, directed by Peter Jackson, featuring unseen footage and commemorating the centennial of the conflict.

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