Director: Peter Hedges
It seems odd that Hollywood’s duo of young It Men are both in addiction stories at the same time, that they’re going head to head to see who can sell the pain best. I guess it’s not uncommon for one idea to get two simultaneous takes, it happens a lot, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, or whatever. But this topic is much too raw to become a competition; this isn’t Armageddon and Deep Impact, people. It’s addiction, it’s serious stuff, and and one film far outdoes the other anyway, and not simply because it was released first. Timothee Chalamet plays his tortured character to perfection in Beautiful Boy, even if his supporting cast and the pace of the film are equally boring. Lucas Hedges and the team behind Ben is Back chose a different path, but, unfortunately, it turned out to be much worse.
Ben arrives back home for Christmas just in time to celebrate with his family, but this isn’t the joyous occasion you might imagine. Ben is an addict and has been in rehab, away from the drugs and the temptations and the life that almost killed him. He has put his family through hell, and should not be back home yet, none of them are ready, but he arrives anyway and now they all have to ask themselves what they are going to do about it. For his mom, Holly, his visit is a wish come true, even though she knows his presence comes with a lot of stress. She’ll have to set ground rules, follow him into every room for the next 24 hours, but that’s something she’s willing to do; she simply wants to be with her son. But an unexpected attack sets off a series of events that send Ben spiraling back into the world he’s trying to escape, and Holly into a mother’s worst nightmare.
While Beautiful Boy is extremely realistic, is based on a true story, and plods depressingly along, Ben is Back decides to make addiction a little more exciting, and that was its first mistake. It quickly becomes an adventure movie, a boy and his mom slipping into the underworld for a night, hoping to return to the suburbs by morning. I don’t mean to belittle addiction, but I think that’s exactly what the film ended up doing, making a more commercial version for a larger audience, but forgetting why this is a story that needs telling in the first place. I said that was the first mistake; I think I was wrong, that’s the second mistake, the first was casting Julia Roberts. She couldn’t convince us that she’s a grieving mother if they paid her, which makes it all the more upsetting that they did. She’s awful, the side actors are as well, Lucas Hedges can’t save the day on his own, and he was really never given the shot. The film fails to capture the point and make it clear, and what we’re left with is just another shoddy attempt.
My rating: ☆ ☆