Directed By: Peter Hedges
Release Date: December 7, 2018
In Ben Is Back, Lucas Hedges does his old man a favor and stars in his lackluster tale of a family dealing with their son’s recovery from drug addiction.
Peter Hedges, the father of rising star Lucas Hedges, quietly, has quite the résumé. His directorial credits are few and far between, but as a screenwriter, he has put his stamp on notable works such as 1993’s What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and 2002’s About A Boy. To this point, his only notable directorial work is for 2007’s Dan In Real Life.
Ben is Back is Peter Hedge’s first film in six years and he’s cheated a little by getting his son Lucas Hedges to play the title role. Lucas Hedges is perhaps the most talented young actor in the game today. In a world where low budget family dramas can’t get a fraction of the budget of epic adventure movies, Lucas has been a messiah to the genre.
Independent movies in this vein are losing money. However, Lucas seems to have a knack for picking the right scripts and elevating them. Manchester by the Sea: $70 million profit, Lady Bird: $70 million profit. Three Billboards: $145 million profit. Stupid numbers for small-time productions. He’s held his own with Oscar winners like Casey Affleck, Francis McDormand, and now Julia Roberts. Any movie he’s in is going to be of interest due to his track record to this point, if for nothing else.
That being said, Peter Hedges can kind off fuck off because this is the first Lucas Hedges movie that didn’t effectively use his talents.
Ben Is Back follows a recovering drug addict named Ben and his family through a 24-hour period (on some Training Day shit) after Ben returns home from sober living. His family is apprehensive to trust him due to past drug-related circumstances. When his past rears its ugly head back into prominence, Ben, with the help of his mother (played by Roberts) set out to correct his past mistakes.
The most interesting thing about this movie is the dynamic between Ben, played by Hedges and his mother, played by Roberts, but both are underutilized in favor of a lackluster story arc that fails as the movie’s backbone. The 24-hour structure of the movie handicaps its ability to tell a well-rounded, thorough story.
The actors are forced to take a backseat to a weak and under-cooked premise. Talented as they may be, Hedges and Roberts weren’t given strong material to support their acting chops. Their performances, especially that of Roberts’, are this movie’s saving grace if there is to be one. Hedges is good for a few incredible scenes as well, but overall, this isn’t a standout on his IMDb page.
The similarities between this movie and Beautiful Boy, released earlier this year, are difficult to overlook. Both revolve around a parent trying to rescue their child from the depths of addiction. One stars Lucas Hedges and the other stars Timotheé Chalamet; the two most noteworthy, young indie darlings working today. Both are 22 and both have already been nominated for Oscars. Watching both movies feels like watching two rookies from the same draft class going head to head. These two are certainly the future.
In Beautiful Boy, the pair of Chalemet and Steve Carrell tell this same story with much more vigor than Hedges and Roberts; and Beautiful Boy was nothing to write home about. Advantage: Chalemet.
Ben Is Back is forgettable and doesn’t pack the emotional punch that you would expect, considering its immensely talented cast. When you consider its limited release, it certainty isn’t worth the trouble required to see it. Next time Peter Hedges tries to guilt Lucas into a roll with that “If it weren’t for me you wouldn’t even be here” bullshit, Lucas would be wise to tell him to “fuck off” and go about his day.