"A Mother Shows Unfailing Love for Her Son"

Content: -2 Discretion advised for adults.

What You Need To Know:

BEN IS BACK is a prodigal son story showcasing the pain of addiction. It begins on Christmas Eve in rural New York. Holly watches her two young children and teenage daughter, Ivy, prepare for the annual Christmas pageant at church before driving home to rest before returning for the pageant later. Back at home, Holly’s estranged, drug-addicted son, Ben, appears. The rest of the movie takes place over a 24-hour period where Holly tries to help her son break free of his harmful habits.

BEN IS BACK features stellar performances by Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges as the mother and son. It’s shot predominantly in a documentary style. BEN IS BACK does a great job depicting a mother’s love and hope for her child along with a strong Christian, moral worldview of righting wrongs and devoting yourself to family. Although BEN IS BACK doesn’t resolve everything at the end, there’s an overarching positive tone that rejects hopelessness. However, BEN IS BACK features a significant amount of strong, gratuitous foul language, content about drugs, and some miscellaneous immorality. MOVIEGUIDE® advises extreme caution.


(CC, BB, Ab, LLL, V, S, DD, M):

Dominant Worldview and Other Worldview Content/Elements:
Strong Christian, moral worldview about a mother who holds out faith for her addicted son’s restored health, sentiments of confession and repentance, Christmas pageant scene shows character reading the Christmas story from Luke 2 where people act out the Nativity and sing “O Holy Night” AA meeting held at a Russian Orthodox church, teenage addict recites the Serenity Prayer, but slight mockery toward church attendance, character comments “You know how we come to church one time a year; we have to make tonight count,” and one subtle jeer toward Christians;

Foul Language:
About 24 obscenities (mostly “f” words) and 16 profanities (including one Jesus profanity and several GDs along with light profanities), implied urinating, character heard vomiting, and quick mention of urination;

Character gets punched, brief instances of aggressive shaking, dog is kidnapped out of revenge, characters threatened, and scenes where characters return to a broken-in home;

No sexual activity, but there is a comment about a physical sexual arousal;

No nudity;

Alcohol Use:
Characters have dialogue outside a liquor store, but drinking not depicted;

Smoking and/or Drug Use and Abuse:
Many conversations about drug use and abuse, character seen using a vape pen, drug addicts depicted with a needle in arm and another with a syringe in leg, and unsavory drug dealers; and,

Miscellaneous Immorality:
Dysfunctional family portrayals, deceitful behavior, dog gets kidnapped as an act of revenge, mentions of theft for drugs, and mother confronts son’s childhood doctor who addicted son to painkillers that she hopes he dies a “horrible death.”

More Detail:

BEN IS BACK is a prodigal son story about a drug-addicted teenage boy who unexpectedly shows up at his family’s home on Christmas Eve, with Julia Roberts playing the boy’s concerned, loving mother.

The story begins on Christmas Eve day in a rural New York town. Holly (Julia Roberts) watches her two young children and teenage daughter, Ivy, prepare for the annual Christmas pageant at church before driving home to rest before returning for the pageant later that evening. Upon arrival, Holly’s estranged son, Ben (Lucas Hedges), stands in the driveway.

Holly greets Ben with open arms and his younger half-siblings greet him with joy. Ivy, however, is skeptical and calls her stepfather, Neal, to inform him Ben’s back. Once Neal arrives home, he’s indignant Ben’s back so soon from rehab, where he’s been seeking treatment since the summer. Reluctantly, Holly and Neal agree to let Ben stay for 24 hours if he always passes a drug test and stays in Holly’s line of sight at all times.

Ben passes the drug test. He and Holly venture to the mall to buy Christmas gifts for some family members. While at the food court, the two run into Ben’s childhood doctor. At first, Holly is polite but things quickly get dark. She leans over into the aged man’s ear and whispers how she hasn’t forgotten he first prescribed Ben the painkillers that led to his addiction. She ends by wishing a “horrible death” upon him. Meanwhile, Ben sees an old friend who unearths an impending need for him to go to an AA meeting ASAP.

After reciting the Serenity prayer at the meeting, Ben takes a moment to share that he’s is 78 days clean, a new personal best. Ben vulnerably relays that months ago, he went to rehab after his mother found him with a needle in his arm and while his dog kept him alive by attending to him in his unconscious state. The attendees chatter afterwards, and a young woman approaches him with adoration for his vulnerability. However, unbeknown to Ben, he was her dealer.

Holly and Ben finish up their shopping at a department store where Ben tries on clothes. He locks the door to his dressing room, and Holly panics bangs on the door only to find that Ben has drugs on his person. Can she ever trust him?

In a sobering moment for Ben, Holly takes him by the town cemetery where she asks him where he wants to be buried because, at this rate, he’ll surely die soon. They head home and as one family, make their way to church for the pageant. Holly says hello to another parent and makes mention of Maggie, who apparently was close to Ben at one time and now is dead. Later, Ben sits and watches his siblings in the performance and begins to cry. Maybe things are looking for him? They come home to a disturbance. The windows are open, home good disheveled and their dog, Ponds, is nowhere to be found.

Ben leaves the house while Holly tucks in the younger children. Once she finds out Ben’s gone, she starts out after him. She catches him down the street then they decide to team up to find Ponds. They stop by a few doors to inquire until they run into the same friend Ben saw at the mall. His name is Spider and, like Ben, he’s an addict. Spider reveals what he knows of Ponds’ whereabouts and who’s behind it all. Holly and Ben stop by a convenience store, and Ben tells his mother, “You’re the best.” She turns for around in a quick moment, only to find he’s slipped out the door again.

Holly’s exhausted and at her wit’s end. Neal keeps calling her, and she finally answers. Ivy takes the phone, however, and talks to her mother privately exclaiming that she knows Ben and her aren’t together because she’s tracking their phones. To keep Neal from calling the cops on Ben, Ivy calls Holly back privately and helps her track down Ben’s phone. Sadly, it’s a dead end. All the while, Ben finds his former drug employer and is finishing one last task for him that involves him sneaking in drugs and money to business associates in the heat of a drug-infested corner of town.

The camera flashes to Holly once more, and she drives to the house of the same woman she talked to at the Christmas pageant. While there, she receives a 10-year-old expired nasal solution that combats overdoses when used. She tries to get it refilled at the local pharmacy but to no avail. Holly runs into Spider at in front of a liquor store and implores him to tell her where Ben is, even giving him the drugs she took off Ben as an incentive. He takes the drugs, but she’s no closer to finding her son.

Early the next morning, Holly talks to Neal on the phone and decides to go home, but at the last moment, stops by the police station as one last ditch effort. The camera focuses in on Ben now. He’s out of harm’s way with Ponds at this right hand, but something isn’t right. He leaves a note on the dog giving Holly’s phone number and takes off. Will Holly find the dog and rescue Ben?

BEN IS BACK does a fantastic job depicting a loving mother’s hope for her hurting son and his struggle to break free of the horror of addiction. Holly’s character demonstrates Christian morals in that she champions healing, worth and unconditional love for Ben. The movie leaves viewers with an abrupt ending that’s not totally resolved, but ends on a hopeful note.

The movie focuses more on story and character rather than visual style, but it’s shot like a documentary, with many close-ups and handheld shots. This makes the movie slightly less grand compared to that of typical Hollywood movies. Regrettably, it also makes the movie less polished and compelling as it could have been.

BEN IS BACK has a strong Christian, moral worldview with positive references to Christianity and the birth of Jesus. It does a great job depicting a mother’s love and hope for her child, with elements of repentance and confession. There’s an offhand jeer at Christians in one line. Also, the movie has lots of strong foul language, conversations about drug addiction and drug pushers, a lewd sexual comment, and other miscellaneous immorality. So, MOVIEGUIDE® advises extreme caution for BEN IS BACK.