JULIA Roberts’ return to television with Homecoming has brought her well deserved plaudits, but family drama Ben is Back is a reminder that some faces are made for the big screen, and Roberts’ is one of them. Ditto Lucas Hedges, Oscar-nominated for Manchester by the Sea, who here plays her addict son. Both actors combine to turn what would otherwise be a so-so film into something more special and worth catching.

Roberts plays Holly Burns, busy sorting a perfect Christmas for her adorable family in their beautiful home. As she approaches the house, the sight of someone waiting at the door turns the mood from pleasant to panic. The Ben of the title is back, when he is supposed to be in rehab. From the way Holly dashes upstairs to hide pills and jewellery, writer-director Peter Hedges (Lucas Hedges’ real-life father, but this is not their story) neatly hints that all concerned have been through this movie before and it has not ended well.

But it is Christmas Eve, so Ben is given another in a long line of chances, a 24-hour stay, as long as he stays within his mother’s sights at all times.

As mother and son try to have an ordinary day together it becomes clear why coming home too soon was a bad idea. Everywhere, from the shopping mall to church, are reminders of Ben’s not so distant past, ruled by his addiction to prescription painkillers, whatever the cost to himself and others.

Hedges’ screenplay does a fine job conveying the new face of addiction in the US (and increasingly here too), how it has moved from the city to the ’burbs, how it starts in a seemingly innocuous way and escalates quickly, and how it drags in people from all walks of life.

Less convincing is how Hedges (What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, About a Boy, Dan in Real Life) contrives to keeps the pair in each other’s company through a long, dark Christmas Eve of the soul. Like Holly, with her perfectionism and relentless positivity, the storyline about a missing dog forcing Ben to retrace his life tries too hard.

Ben is Back also repeats the fault of a recent, similar picture, Beautiful Boy, in being tough about the costs of addiction but ultimately pulling back when the going could potentially get too tough.

Still, these are terrific performances from Roberts and Hedges. He is frighteningly convincing as the charming boy forever teetering on the edge of ugliness. It is another mom role for Roberts, but she gets to show the same range of emotional light and shade that suited her so well in Erin Brockovich. Holly might be a suburban mother but experience has made her a streetfighter in spirit. Never mind Ben, Roberts is back.