The new holiday drama film Ben Is Back is likely to hit home for a lot of families. The movie, which stars Julia Roberts and Lucas Hedges and comes out Dec. 7, is about a 19-year-old opioid addict (Hedges) who unexpectedly returns home from rehab on Christmas Eve for one night only, leaving his mother (Roberts) both happy to see him and scrambling to keep his ongoing criminal lifestyle from destroying him and engulfing their family. Given the vast opioid addiction epidemic that's currently plaguing the U.S., it's likely the story will feel familiar to a great number of people, but is it based on real life? Is Ben Is Back a true story?
Although it seems like it could happen in any small American town that's been ravaged by opioid addiction, Ben Is Back is not a true story. The film is a complete work of fiction, written by its director — and the father of its star — Peter Hedges. But even though the movie itself is a fictional story, Hedges still took a lot of inspiration from both his personal life and the entire opioid epidemic itself. "Someone I loved died [from an opioid addiction], my favorite actor in the world died, my niece [who’s] in the film almost died," Hedges said at the film's Toronto International Film Festival, according to EW's Joey Nolfi. "We’re just living in such a divisive and frustrating moment in time, and I thought, 'Well, what if I quit everything that I’m working on and I just put everything into something that… helps be a part of the bigger conversation [about healing]?'"
The elder Hedges spoke more about his motivations in making the film at the movie's Austin Film Fest premiere. "I wanted to make something urgent and necessary about a family, broken people, who are doing the best they can ... who are dealing with a hard thing," he told Vanessa Salazar at Geeks WorldWide. "The heroin opioid epidemic in America right now is ravaging our country, and I thought that I could maybe tell a story about one family on one day, and that story might shine a bright light on this very dark thing."
When speaking to Salazar, Hedges also revealed his main goal in making the film, and his hope that it may in some small way offer comfort to those dealing with opioid addiction in their own lives. "I hope people who are going through this with their family will recognize that they're being seen and heard; that while it might not be exactly their story, there are certain things that are true for all families dealing with this and that they'll feel less alone and less shame," Hedges said. "And then for all the people who say, 'I don't understand that,' and 'It's a choice,' and [who are] impatient and frustrated with people that struggle with the epidemic, that their hearts might grow and feel compassion, and [that they'll] be less dismissive and more willing to try to engage and try to help. Because we need a lot of help right now."
Ben Is Back may not be a true story, but it will certainly feel real to many — and the film's writer/director is hoping some good will come from that realism.