Thanks to Netflix, people will get to enjoy Peter Hedges’ 2018 masterpiece Ben is Back. The film was a critical success but a box office flop, grossing $12 million against a $13 million budget. 

As the title suggests, the film chronicles Ben’s unexpected return to his family on Christmas Eve. Ben has spent several months in rehab and is taking a break from the program to spend time with his family. Holly, Ben’s mother, is delighted to see him but doesn’t view Ben’s return as the perfect Christmas gift for her family. 

The following 24 hours feature dramatic revelations, testing Holly’s love for Ben and his commitment to keeping clean. 

Ben is Back is a fictional story created by Peter Hedges

Ben is Back is a fictional story written by esteemed writer and director Peter Hedges. Peter said that the decision to write a story about the impact of drug addiction on families came to him in the early 2010s as he was experiencing writer’s block. 

Hedges then lost a friend to a heroin overdose and one of his favorite actors, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, to a drug overdose. A short while later, Peter’s niece almost passed away due to drugs. Peter said during the Toronto International Film Festival:

“We’re just living in such a divisive and frustrating moment in time, and I thought, ‘Well, what if I quit everything I’m working on and I just put everything into something that… helps be a part of a bigger conversation [about healing]?’”

Peter immersed himself in research about drug addiction and enrolled in a playwriting workshop in 2017. The workshop helped eradicate his writer’s block, inspiring him to write the first ten pages of the script.  

Hedges completed the script and presented it to producer Nina Jacobson, whose son’s best friend passed away due to opioid addiction. Nina’s personal connection to Peter’s narrative convinced her to produce the film. 

Peter told Vanessa Salazar at Geeks WorldWide that he hoped the film’s audiences would empathize with people struggling with addiction:

“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.”

Writer Peter Hedges was inspired by personal experiences with his mom and family

“Over the course of my creative life, I’ve trafficked in broken, heroic mothers,” Peter wrote in The Los Angeles Times

Peter’s expertise with ‘broken, heroic mothers’ stems from his experiences with his late mom, Carol Hedges, an alcohol addict. She quit drinking when Peter was 15. Hedges continued:

“When I was younger, alcohol hijacked my mother’s heart and she couldn’t love us enough. For her last 21 1/2 years, she loved us too much, which turns out to be my favorite kind of love.”

Carol’s struggle with addiction inadvertently shaped Ben is Back. Hedges attended AA meetings with Carol and watched her relapse twice. “They slip and it made you wonder why, why is that happening,” Peter told THR

In the film, Ben’s addiction affected his entire family, just like Carol’s addiction affected her family. Hedges explained:

“In my own life, what became interesting was just that I grew up in a family where I had to lie a lot. We all lied. We pretended that we were better off and happier than we were. So all of those dynamics and energy in play, I was able to access in writing this. I just know it. I know it so well.”

Ben is the broken one in Ben is Back, but the hero remains Holly, a loving mom who has no idea how best to help her son. Peter didn’t use his mom’s blueprint to create Holly, but the love she offers Ben is the same love Carol gave Peter in the last 20 odd years of her life. He said:

“Everything good in my life can be traced back to my mother’s sobriety. She showed me that broken people can — with the help of others — turn themselves around.”