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By Megan Bianco
Celebrity family members working together can be a marketing gold mine for press tours and trivia nuts. Anjelica Huston won Best Supporting Actress in her father John’s film, Prizzi’s Honor (1985); Talia Shire played Connie Corleone in her brother Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather trilogy (1972-90); Henry and Bridget Fonda co-starred in On Golden Pond (1981), etc. Most recently, writer-director Peter Hedges and his actor son, Lucas, collaborate on the family drama, Ben is Back.
In the suburbs of New York, Ben Burns (L. Hedges) surprises his family by returning home Christmas Eve morning. Teenage Ben has spent the past six months in rehab for addiction to painkillers and heroin, and no one is more excited to see him than his mother, Holly (Julia Roberts).
His stepfather, Neal (Courtney B. Vance), and sister, Ivy (Kathryn Newton), are skeptical, as Ben technically hasn’t fully completed his recovery yet. What happens to the family for the next 24 hours will test their trust and safety with Ben.
Peter Hedges is no stranger to family dysfunction, as he previously covered in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993), Pieces of April (2003) and Dan in Real Life (2007).
Here he is at his most intense with the serious topic of teen drug addiction at the center of Ben is Back. Lucas’ personal connection to his director doesn’t hold back his performance, fortunately, and Roberts shows she still has it as a lead. Ben is Back isn’t exactly a feel-good film for the holidays, but film fans will appreciate it. If there is one thing to nitpick, it’s that the mother and daughter being named Holly and Ivy is a little corny.