Tag Archives: addiction


5 Apr

‘Diane’: Mother has some issues of her own, and she’s taking the audience down with her

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Sin and redemption is an arduous process. For Diane (Mary Kay Place, knocking it out of the park and into the next city) it’s an endless ordeal. When we first catch up with Diane she seems something of a saint, doing her son’s laundry, visiting her terminally ill cousin, Donna (Deirdre O’Connell) in the hospital, looking in on a convalescing neighbor and staffing a local soup kitchen with her friend Bobbie (Andrea Martin), whom she tells much over coffee and drinks throughout the film.

Over the slow-arcing – and emotionally aching – course of “Diane” we come to learn that part of the motivation in these selfless acts is atonement. Too, life at home in rural Western Massachusetts (though shot in Upstate New York) isn’t so tranquil. Diane’s mercurial adult son, Brian (Jake Lacy, who actually is from Western Massachusetts) is a recovering addict and in the throes of relapse. In such a state he’s content to wallow in his own squalor and drop the C-word should his mother threaten him with an intervention. Diane’s life is exhausting, to say the least, and then there’s that specter from her past that’s been driving her for years, the way Casey Affleck’s weary and remorseful dad shambled across the screen with the heaviness of the world on his slim shoulders in “Manchester by the Sea”(2016).

If the film sounds a bit like the Lucas Hedges and Julia Roberts tough-love flick “Ben is Back,” it is – in some ways. “Diane” is far grittier. It might sound as if Diane just needs a spa day; but she gets that, and then she goes out and gets a drink and another, and another after that, until she’s cut off. It’s arguably the best scene in the film, as Place’s tortured soul tries to find solace at the bottom of a glass while mouthing lyrics to 1990s classics on the jukebox. At some point Brian goes missing, and where the film goes from there is anything but predictable.

What director Kent Jones (of the 2015 documentary “Hitchcock/Truffaut,” making his feature debut) mainlines here is a sense of rue and how the present is shaped in crashing waves from small, rippling transgressions out of the past. The sense of fate, family and faith, let alone loyalty and betrayal, resounds. Jones goes about it all with subtlety, and has a talented ensemble (the great Estelle Parsons among the lot).

It’s impossible to sit through “Diane” and not get pulled by the strong emotional current or bold performances. If the name Mary Kay Place is a bit of a head-scratcher, she’s always been off to the side in films such as “Being John Malkovich” and “Girl Interrupted” (both 1999), but that’s now likely to change, and for many others in the cast as well. It may be early in the year, but boy, there’s a lot of gold prospects in “Diane.”

Ben is Back

14 Dec

‘Ben Is Back’: This addict son’s homecoming takes bad turns from family drama to thriller

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It’s a family affair as dad Peter Hedges directs son Lucas Hedges in “Ben Is Back,” an edgy if overwrought melodrama about a family caught in the crosshairs of addiction. Similar material was explored this year in “Beautiful Boy,” a based-on-real-life yarn that worked inner sentiments with solid fervor but somehow failed to kick it over the moon.

The result’s about the same here, but the film moves in very different strokes. For one, “Ben Is Back” is much grittier and edgier in texture and context. The addicted son, Ben (Lucas Hedges, nominated for an Oscar for a “Manchester by the Sea”) makes a surprise return home from rehab as Christmas nears and becomes an immediate source of tension between his mother (Julia Roberts) and stepfather (Courtney B. Vance). His presence is a clear code red. Sure, they’re fearful Ben will use again – but there seems to be something more. Holly (Roberts) puts down some hard rules and Neal (Vance) agrees reluctantly. There are other kids in the house whose welfare is at stake: Ben’s sister Ivy (Kathryn Newton) and Neal’s two children from a prior union. It’s something of a “Brady Bunch,” but there’s no laugh track and nothing funny in what’s to come.

Holly and Neal’s concerns seem a bit over the top initially. Holly won’t let Ben go to the bathroom or try on a shirt in a retail store without her constant supervision. After a group meeting you realize why: Ben’s not only at risk to use again (“all addicts lie,” he forewarns Holly), but was an active dealer in the upstate New York hamlet that’s a harried mix of sugar plum nice and badass vice – the tentacles of which threaten to drag him back in. Neal and Holly’s quaint homestead is soon burglarized, the dog’s gone missing and unsavory sorts start to lurk out from the dark shadows of Main Street. A wonderful life this is not.

By the third act the film shifts into thriller mode – something of a tough-love saga by way of “Breaking Bad.” It’s too bad, too, because the homestead dynamic between the father who bought into this little shop of horrors and the protective mother caught in conflict gets lost. The film comes out of the gate wobbly, and just when it find its feet and we begin to get invested, Hedges the writer and director takes one mean street turn after the next. Only the first few might be plausible.

The fraught chemistry between Roberts, Hedges and Vance sells much of it for a while – the whole ensemble is quite convincing – but what they’re given to work with is palpable, unbridled anger without ownership or remorse. As Holly sees it, her family’s troubles are tied to one person, and when she gets her moment of confrontation, it’s ugly, with little upside. Addiction’s no doubt nasty and impactful beyond the veins of the person using, but bleak tales close to the edge don’t necessarily need to go over it. Sometimes family affairs need to just be more intimate.