Film Festivals

TIFF 2018: Ben is Back Review

This will be one of many reviews during this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. If you would like to keep up with our content, click here.

Synopsis: Nineteen-year-old Ben Burns unexpectedly returns home to his family’s suburban home on Christmas Eve morning. Ben’s mother, Holly, is relieved and welcoming but wary of her son staying clean. Over a turbulent 24 hours, new truths are revealed, and a mother’s undying love for her son is tested as she does everything in her power to keep him safe. (Elevation Pictures)

Starring: Julia Roberts, Lucas Hedges, and Courtney B. Vance

Writer: Peter Hedges

Director: Peter Hedges

Rating: n/a

Running Time: 103mins


For a film of it’s type, Ben is Back has had quite an unconventional marketing campaign (that has barely begun). An odd occurrence for an independently produced drama, this film has a *teaser* trailer, that reveals nearly nothing. This was definitely intriguing and also one of the reasons why this is such a big surprise….

The plot description that is going around for this film is pretty simple – and deservedly so, as this is all you really need to know. It does start out as a meditative family drama, but this goes to places audiences will never expect- particularly in it’s extremely grounded portrayal of addiction, and it’s notably wild tonal shift, becoming a full on thriller in the third act. We relate to Ben and his family through the most insane of moments, and no matter how crazy the story gets, it never strays away from feeling real.

On top of this brilliantly written story that is near flawlessly directed and executed by Peter Hedges, of What’s Eating Gilbert Grape fame, the performances are the true cherry on top and the real shining light of this film. Director Hedges’ son, Lucas, who is in two other films coming out this year, is incredible as Ben Burns. He isn’t necessarily an actor who takes on transformation in his roles – but in the greatest way possible. He pushes that idea here, taking quite a different personality and backstory from his former rules, but crafting it in a way that’s true to his talent and strong suits. Even more noteworthy here is Julia Roberts as Ben’s mother Holly- who after years and years of notability in the industry, gives what might be her most heartbreaking performances yet, for reasons that should be withheld until you’ve seen the film.

This was easily one of the bigger surprises of the festival, and it will be exciting to see how this fares come awards season – because it deserves all of the awards it can get.

Score: 8.5/10

Follow me on twitter @daniel_azbel and on letterboxd @danthemovieman.


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