Ben Is Back

Ben Is Back is a 2018 American drama film written and directed by Peter Hedges and starring Julia Roberts, Lucas Hedges (son of the film's director), and Courtney B. Vance. The plot follows a mother who tries to help her addict son after he returns home from rehab.

Ben Is Back
Ben is Back.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byPeter Hedges
Produced by
Written byPeter Hedges
Music byDickon Hinchliffe
CinematographyStuart Dryburgh
Edited byIan Blume
Distributed by
Release date
  • September 8, 2018 (2018-09-08) (TIFF)
  • December 7, 2018 (2018-12-07) (United States)
Running time
103 minutes[1]
CountryUnited States
Budget$13 million[2]
Box office$10.1 million[3][4]

The film had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 8, 2018, and was theatrically released on December 7, 2018, by LD Entertainment, Roadside Attractions, and Lionsgate. The film received generally favorable reviews from critics, who praised the performances of Hedges and Roberts but was a box office bomb grossing just $10.1 million against its $13 million budget.


Driving home with her kids on Christmas Eve, Holly Burns is startled to see her son Ben standing in the driveway. Ben has been in rehab for the past few months and is not supposed to be released yet. Ben tells them his sponsor said a trip home would be good for him. Though wary, Holly is happy to see him and says he can stay for 24 hours on the condition he does not leave her sight.

Holly takes Ben out to do some holiday shopping and get him clothes for church. While at the mall Holly runs into Ben's former doctor, now an old man riddled with dementia. When his caregiver walks away Holly scolds him for getting her son hooked on painkillers after a snowboarding accident when he was younger. Ben also makes eye contact with someone who clearly recognizes him, leaving Ben looking worried. He tells Holly he needs to get to a support group meeting immediately.

At the meeting Ben shares the story of how he almost overdosed but his mom and dog saved him. After the meeting he is approached by a young girl. He doesn't recognize her, but she tells him he was her dealer and asks if he wants to get high with her one last time.

Back shopping once again Holly finds drugs on Ben and he claims the girl at the meeting gave them to him. Holly takes the drugs and they go home and get ready for church. At church they see a distraught woman. Holly approaches her and gives her condolences for the loss of her daughter Maggie. It is implied that Maggie was the friend or girlfriend of Ben's and a fellow person with an addiction.

The family drives home from church that night to find that someone has broken into their home and kidnapped the family dog, Ponce. Realizing it has something to do with him, Ben runs off to retrieve the dog. Holly follows him in the car and they end up driving around trying to find the dog together. They first visit one of Ben's former high school teachers. Holly is shocked to learn he used to provide her son with drugs in exchange for sexual favors. Next they go to Maggie's father's apartment. Seeing him sleeping and no dog in sight they retreat to their car but he wakes and angrily smashes the car window screaming for Ben to leave.

While eating at a diner Ben tells Holly he got Maggie hooked on drugs and is responsible for her death. He says that he lied to her telling her that the drugs were the best thing ever. Holly explains at the time he believed this to be the truth, so it was not a lie. Ben's childhood friend Spencer (the guy from the mall) shows up and after a physical confrontation, confirms Ben's fear: Clayton, a drug dealer he used to work for, is the one who took the dog. Ben tries to get his mom to go home, telling her this will be dangerous and she should let him handle it. He also says he's a liar and not worth all the trouble but Holly refuses to leave him.

Ben is able to trick Holly at a gas station convenience store, leaving her stranded there while he goes to meet Clayton. Ben tries to buy his dog back but Clayton says Ben must do one more job for him - handling a drug run. Meanwhile, Holly goes to Maggie's mom for help. Maggie's mom gives her a med kit for reviving a person who has suffered an overdose and the keys to her car to go find Ben. Holly tracks down Spencer, and gives him the drugs she confiscated from Ben earlier, in exchange for him telling her where Ben might be. Holly also goes to a drive-through pharmacy and tries to fill an old prescription, presumably for anti-overdose medication. The pharmacist refuses to fill the prescription, because the store does not want to encourage bad behavior.

Ben completes the mission and gets his dog back, but Clayton also gives him some drugs as a thank you. Ben goes to the same drive-through pharmacy, ironically receiving a syringe from the same person who previously denied Holly anti-overdose medication on the grounds of not wanting to encourage bad behavior. Ben drives out to an abandoned barn and parks on the side of the road. He leaves Ponce in the car with a note asking whoever finds it to call Holly.

After wandering around all night, searching unsuccessfully for Ben, Holly finally goes to a police station. While screaming for someone to find and arrest her son, she gets a call from a guy who has found Ponce, and drives out to retrieve him. She follows Ponce down a nearby path that leads to an old barn where she finds Ben unconscious, having taken the drugs from Clayton. Holly uses the Naloxone kit from Maggie's mom and performs mouth-to-mouth on him, and finally is able to revive him as the movie cuts to ending credits.


  • Julia Roberts as Holly Burns-Beeby, Ben and Ivy's mother and Neal's wife
  • Lucas Hedges as Ben Burns, Holly's son, Ivy's brother and Neal's stepson
  • Courtney B. Vance as Neal Beeby, Ben and Ivy's stepfather and Holly's husband
  • Kathryn Newton as Ivy Burns, Ben's sister, Holly's daughter and Neal's stepdaughter
  • Rachel Bay Jones as Beth Conyers, the mother of Ben's deceased ex-girlfriend, Maggie
  • David Zaldivar as Spencer "Spider" Webbs, a drug addict and one of Ben's old friends
  • Alexandra Park as Cara K at AA meeting, a Ben drug customer
  • Michael Esper as Clayton, Ben's local drug supplier and Ponce thief
  • Tim Guinee as Phil, AA meeting member
  • Henry Stram as Mr. Richman, Ben's high school history teacher who gave Ben oxycontin in exchange for sexual favors
  • Myra Lucretia Taylor as Sally, a homeless woman
  • Kristin Griffith as Mrs. Crane, wife of Alzheimer doctor
  • Mia Fowler as Lacey Burns-Beeby, Ben's little sister - age 10
  • Jakari Fraser as Liam Burns-Beeby, Neal and Holly's 6-year-old son
  • Ponce as family dog


The project was announced in October 2017, with Lucas Hedges and Julia Roberts set to star.[5] In November, Kathryn Newton was cast as the titular Ben's sister Ivy,[6] and Alexandra Park joined as an addict Ben meets during an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.[7] Filming began on December 5, with Courtney B. Vance joining the cast as Ben's stepfather.[8] Filming took place in Yonkers, New City, Sloatsburg, Larchmont, Mamaroneck, Garnerville, and Haverstraw, New York.[9]


In July 2018, LD Entertainment, Roadside Attractions and Lionsgate acquired distribution rights to the film, which they released on December 7, 2018.[10] The film had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 8, 2018.[11]


According to the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, 82% of critics have given the film a positive review based on 209 reviews, with an average rating of 6.9/10. The website's critics consensus reads, "Refreshingly understated, Ben Is Back subverts family drama stereotypes - and provides a forum for terrific performances from Lucas Hedges and Julia Roberts."[12] At Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 66 out of 100 based on 39 reviews, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[13]


  1. ^ "Ben is Back". Toronto International Film Festival. Retrieved July 24, 2018.
  2. ^ Abramovitch, Seth (December 4, 2018). "Making of 'Ben Is Back': How Director Peter Hedges Convinced His Reluctant Son Lucas to Star". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved December 13, 2018.
  3. ^ "Ben Is Back (2018)". The Numbers. Retrieved April 7, 2019.
  4. ^ "Ben Is Back (2018)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved October 30, 2019.
  5. ^ Jr, Mike Fleming (23 October 2017). "Julia Roberts And Lucas Hedges Team For Black Bear & 30WEST-Backed 'Ben Is Back'". Deadline Hollywood.
  6. ^ Busch, Anita (14 November 2017). "'Big Little Lies' Kathryn Newton Joins Julia Roberts, Lucas Hedges In 'Ben Is Back'". Deadline Hollywood.
  7. ^ N'Duka, Amanda (28 November 2017). "'The Royals' Star Alexandra Park Cast In Peter Hedges' 'Ben Is Back'". Deadline Hollywood.
  8. ^ N'Duka, Amanda (5 December 2017). "Courtney B. Vance Joins Julia Roberts & Lucas Hedges In 'Ben Is Back'". Deadline Hollywood.
  9. ^ Julia Roberts project, filmed in Rockland, gets positive reviews Retrieved October 15, 2018
  10. ^ Ramos, Dino-Day (July 9, 2018). "Julia Roberts Drama 'Ben Is Back' Acquired By LD Entertainment, Lionsgate & Roadside". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved July 9, 2018.
  11. ^ Vlessing, Etan (July 24, 2018). "Toronto: Timothee Chalamet Starrer 'Beautiful Boy,' Dan Fogelman's 'Life Itself' Among Festival Lineup". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved July 24, 2018.
  12. ^ "Ben is Back (2018)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango Media. Retrieved May 18, 2019.
  13. ^ "Ben Is Back Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved April 20, 2019.

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