Ben is back, but Julia Roberts isn’t.
After 17 days, Peter Hedges’s extremely well-directed, well-written drama “Ben Is Back” is DOA at the box office.
Not only that: its $950K take is heading star Julia Roberts to her lowest box office ever. You’d have to go back to the ill-conceived “Full Frontal” in 2002, which made a total of $2.5 million.
The “Ben is Back” box office failure hurts more because Roberts– who can be strident in films–gives one of her best, warmest, and most direct performances ever. She is matched by Lucas Hedges, who plays her late teen/adult son, and is the toast of the town these days. Lucas’s talented filmmaker dad, Peter, wrote and directed the movie. Rotten Tomatoes scored it a very favorable 81%.
If “Ben is Back” had been released by a real indie distributor, or Fox Searchlight or Focus, it might have had a chance. But Roadside Attractions, the poor cousin of Lions Gate, is famous for botching its releases. Their only hit this year was a Christian film, assigned to them by Lions Gate. “I Can Only Imagine” came with its own faith-based marketing.
The rest of Roadside’s 2018 list consisted of the much-reviled “Forever My Girl,” which made $16 million, and “Viper Club,” which took in just $60,000. Without “I Can Only Imagine,” Roadside would have barely existed this year.
“Ben Is Back” might have had a chance if there’d been some awards buzz. But Hedges was already tied up with “Boy Erased,” an indie hit with $6.5 million in the till– and also a competitor in the demographic of troubled young men and their parents. The other similar film, “Beautiful Boy,” struggled to scare up $7 million with Hedges’s best known “rival” Timothee Chalamet– also an excellent film with very strong performers.
As for Roberts, she may have been busy with her Amazon series, “Homecoming.” Roberts certainly doesn’t need the money from “Ben.” She’s got cosmetics commercials running everywhere. And at 51 years old, she’s had an exciting run of hits from “My Best Friend’s Wedding” (1997) to “America’s Sweethearts” (2001). Plus she starred in the iconic “Pretty Woman” (1990). Her Oscar is from “Erin Brockovich” (2000).