Ben is Back reviews

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Re: Ben is Back reviews

Postby dws1982 » Fri Dec 28, 2018 10:56 pm

I really loved this. (Also disagree that it's visually drab--there were times where I was thinking that Peter Hedges really knows how to get a striking close-up. Also times where I felt like Hedges should've traded the handheld camera for something that would make the shots a bit more fluid.)

Of the two addiction dramas in theaters this fall, this is clearly the stronger of the two, although it's also worth noting that they both tackle the subject from wildly different angles--Beautiful Boy took a more all-encompassing approach, showing the ups and downs of addiction over several years, while Ben Is Back centers on roughly a 24-hour period, where Ben (Lucas Hedges, excellent) unexpectedly comes home for Christmas (he had been living in a sober-living facility). His mom, Holly (Julia Roberts, also excellent) is glad to see that her son is safe and (maybe) doing okay, while his step-dad and sister aren't quite so welcoming. In some ways it's a modern riff on the parable of the Lost Son--there's the parent, relieved and happy to see their son, while also giving a voice and perspective to the brother (sister in this case) who had loyally stayed with the parent. The first half is mostly a domestic drama, essentially ending in a truly excellent scene at a Christmas Eve church service, a moment where we really feel the possibility of old wrongs being acknowledged and forgiven. (Hedges has a wordless close-up in this scene that is just great.) After this it becomes a different movie, kind of, and I suspect some people might be resistant to the way the character drama of the first half kind-of-sort-of gives way to a more traditional genre film in the second half, but it unexpectedly plays out as a reverse of It's A Wonderful Life (rather than showing the positive impact he had on the town, we instead see a glimpse of the damage that Ben caused), and thematically I think it works: Forgiveness and grace, in many cases, are appreciated more when we get a firm idea of what is being forgiven. Whereas Beautiful Boy put on-screen disclaimers at the end to give Nic's story a definitive conclusion, Ben Is Back never offers a resolution beyond what matters most to Holly and Ben in that very moment. I think the movie justifies that ending too, because it's not a movie that's concerned with years of sobriety--it knows that even with several days, weeks, months, and even years of sobriety, the most important thing is sometimes getting to the next day, or the next hour, or the next minute. I think the ending also underlines the fact that this is a movie that knows that, even in the worst scenarios, even in the hardest times, there's still room for forgiveness, and grace.

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Re: Ben is Back reviews

Postby Big Magilla » Mon Oct 29, 2018 6:24 am

Looking forward to seeing Ben Is Back - it is Is, not is, is being a verb, not a preposition.

Peter Hedges is primarily a writer (What's Eating Gilbert Grape, About a Boy), not a visual artist which could explain why cinematography is not a strong component of the films he has directed, but Dan in Real Life and even The Odd Life of Timothy Green were more visually interesting than Pieces of April which was his first film as a director, a sign that he has learned from his early mistakes.

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Re: Ben is Back reviews

Postby The Original BJ » Mon Oct 29, 2018 1:25 am

After seeing this and Beautiful Boy within a three week period, I've definitely had my fill of films about young drug addicts and their concerned parents for a while. I do think this is a stronger movie than Beautiful Boy, mainly because it has far more narrative drive, and tackles subject matter that feels a bit fresher, mainly the ways in which having an addict in the family can cause all sorts of collateral damage not only within one household, but throughout an entire town. (The fact that it's a film about addiction with barely any actual drug use in it also helps make it feel like not just the same old thing).

I also think it's interesting any time a movie basically shifts genres halfway through, and this one essentially goes from a family drama to a dark-night-of-the-soul thriller at about the midpoint. I can't say I thought this shift was entirely successful -- sometimes the movie seems to be trying to goose the audience with suspense by having characters behave in a not entirely believable manner. But the fact that the narrative is so compact -- the whole film takes place over the course of a day -- allows it to accumulate in power, culminating in a final scene that feels pretty close to perfect. (Visually it's pretty drab, though -- I was actually shocked to see that The Piano's Stuart Dryburgh was credited as the DP -- though I'm reminded that Peter Hedges's earlier film Pieces of April looked pretty hideous.)

Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges make for a strong team, with both getting powerful moments. But overall this feels like the kind of tiny/not-quite-excellent-enough movie that bubbles just under Oscar attention without actually breaking through to get it.

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Ben is Back reviews

Postby Mister Tee » Sat Sep 08, 2018 10:12 pm

And when was the last time we discussed Julia Roberts as a best actress candidate? ... 202933725/ ... ew-1141218

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