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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Promotes strong family ties, loving a person even if you hate their addiction, recognizing that addiction is a disease and not a choice once it's fully manifested, and supporting those you love. Also argues strongly that the government and the country as a whole need to do a better job of treating addiction.
Positive Role Models
Holly is a devoted mother who's willing to put herself in danger to help save her son. She's fiercely protective, wants Ben to get better. She occasionally lies to her husband and daughter, but every decision is for the sake of her son. Ben works hard to get through day without giving in to constant pull of addiction but has to revisit some of the worst parts of his past. He loves his family but doesn't feel he's worth his mother's love, devotion.
Violence & Scariness
More tension and suspense than actual violence, but a breaking-and-entering scene is somewhat upsetting, particularly when the dog is found to be missing. A grieving father hits Ben and Holly's window and car and yells angrily at them. Ben begs Holly to "let him go" and forget about him. Holly follows Ben on a scary road trip to an unknown destination. Ben confronts a dealer who has scary-looking enforcers around him.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Married couple embraces.
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Lots of strong language (mostly by mother and son), including "f--k," "f---ing," "f---ed up," " "a--hole," "goddammit," "s--t," and "smart ass." Someone also yells "junkie piece of s--t."
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Products & Purchases
Subaru Outback, iPhone, American Giant, Saturn car.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Not much on-camera drug use, but whole movie is about drug use, addiction. Ben vapes throughout beginning. Holly blames pediatrician for assuring her that painkillers for 14-year-old Ben weren't addictive. Ben discusses his drug use at support meeting; he apologizes for lies he's told, terrible things he's done for sake of his addiction. Ben and Holly talk about a young woman who overdosed after Ben encouraged her to use. Somebody asks Ben to use "one more time" with her. Two different single-dose packets of heroin play pivotal roles in movie. One character appears to be going through withdrawal. Another character appears to have overdosed.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Ben Is Back is a drama that centers on the United States' opioid epidemic. Lucas Hedges plays the titular Ben, a recovering heroin addict, and Julia Roberts is Ben's loving mom. The movie takes place over one day and a long night, so there's more discussed about Ben's history of drug use than actually seen. Although there is use in the movie, it mostly takes place off-camera. Expect lots of strong language -- mostly "f--k," "s--t," and "a--hole" -- as well as candid and "read between the lines" descriptions of the side effects of opioid use, withdrawal, and the kinds of immoral/criminal activity that so often go along with addiction. A family home is broken into, and the beloved dog is taken or goes missing; there are also angry/tense confrontations. Parents should see the movie with their teens and talk about the realistic nature of Ben's addiction and how opioid use/addiction is affecting younger and younger users, especially teens who start off with a real injury and quickly become addicted to their prescribed painkillers. Director Peter Hedges (also Lucas' father) has said he hopes families will feel empathy for the characters and better understand the many misconceptions about addiction and recovery. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
Roberts gives one of the most powerful performances of her career as a devoted mother, opposite the equally excellent Hedges, in this emotional addiction drama. Writer-director Peter Hedges has brilliantly taken one of the pressing crises of our time -- the opioid epidemic -- and put one of Hollywood's most beloved actresses in the central role. Roberts is amazing as Holly, a wealthy mom in suburban New York who loves her son unconditionally and has the resources to help him but is ultimately still helpless as he struggles with the disease that could so easily kill him. There's no way for audiences not to love and empathize with Holly, whether she's smiling and greeting the other attendees of a Narcotics Anonymous meeting, yelling at her son to open a dressing-room door, or learning how to administer a life-saving overdose-reversal drug. She's luminous, even in despair.
Peter Hedges makes it clear where he stands and what viewers should consider without making the dialogue preachy. But it's obvious that, when it comes to addiction, the political is personal and the personal is political. Holly can't get the rescue drug refilled because it might "encourage" drug use, but her former pediatrician was once able to keep plying Ben with stronger and stronger opiates that got the boy hooked. When Holly happens upon that doctor at a mall food court, her quiet wrath is shocking -- but understandable. There are noteworthy supporting performances by Vance, Newton, and Tony-winning stage actress Rachel Bay Jones as a mother whose daughter (a friend of Ben's) died. But the film belongs to Roberts and Hedges, whose on-screen bond is both remarkable and heartbreaking.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.