When Jesus can’t moms save, that is the moral behind Ben Is Back, a harrowing and heartbreaking addiction recovery drama about a mother and son’s (Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges) Christmas Eve journey through a hell scape of past narcotic sins, betrayals, victims of the son’s abuses and criminal connections that leads to a tormented rehabilitation, forgiveness and even more agonizing self correction.
This is the first on screen collaboration between directing father Peter Hedges and acting son Lucas Hedges and the result is a movie that is both intimate in its emotional chemistry and obvious in its straight forward storytelling and unfussy imagery that shrouds and reveals everything without the need to spell it out via dialogue. Everything is so clear, obvious and direct, the emotional impact is as bare and heartbreaking as anything seen on screen this year or last year.
Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges are brilliant at showing the contrasting emotions playing out simultaneously in each of their characters.
Roberts superbly plays a supermom caught between, elation and devastation, a woman outwardly strong but inwardly barely holding on, possessing a maternal instinct and love so tenacious she is willing to go through hell with her son to bring him back and pull him singlehandedly towards redemption, the Christ like anchor for her son to swim towards and latch onto for dear life. Her devotion makes this dark Christmas story a true meaning of Christmas narrative easy for the secular crowd to accept with out feeling preached to.
Lucas Hedges gives his best performance of the three films he has appeared in 2018 (Mid90’s and Boy Erased are the others). His Ben is constantly floating between temptation and a wavering determination to succeed, overcome and make amends for what he has done in a world that is filled with echoing reminders of his past evils and failures; a portrayal that shows the agony, the long odds of recovery, the near heroic resurrection required to connect back to his better self— that can only be wholly complete with the acknowledgement, support, connection and love of those same traits in his messiah mom.
Ben Is Back is a movie that left me devastated but also elevated. It showed me how truly hard it is to redeem a corrupted world and appreciate the aching sorrows and good works of determined Jesus moms.
All photos courtesy of Roadshow Films.