Get ready to see a lot more of that Julia Roberts grin. Pushing the A Star is Born team aside, Julia was the biggest star at the Toronto International Film Festival all weekend, hustling for two new projects, Amazon’s new thrilling mystery series Homecoming, and the devastating and completely arresting addiction drama Ben is Back. It’s the latter that’s her real breakthrough though – and it’s her best performance in years.
Julia plays Holly, a mom of four. We first meet her on Christmas Eve, when she’s with her daughter Ivy (Kathryn Newton, Big Little Lies) and two youngest kids rehearsing for their holiday performance. Minutes later, while driving home, she’s shocked to see her troubled son Ben (Lucas Hedges) wandering around the house, fresh out of sober living. Overwhelmed, and full of hope in her heart, she runs and hugs him… despite Ivy’s warnings. But immediately, something’s off. She was due to visit him in rehab the next day.
It’s an ominous surprise and her husband Neal (Courtney B. Vance) isn’t having it. So, after hiding jewelry and cash, she agrees to let him stay the night under one condition: she won’t let him out of her sight.
As we know, addiction can happen to anyone and can affect everyone. And Peter Hedges’ (yes, Lucas’ dad) film tackles the opioid epidemic with such care and love, it almost feels like a documentary. Julia and Lucas are so intertwined that you’re right there with her: the fear of relapse, the denial, her ferocious desire to keep him away from triggers, the frustration, and ultimately, the blame. When she cries, it’s basically an avatar for the audience. And beyond that, Holly has bite. Don’t f-ck with her.
Julia is terrific here. And it seems like she knows she has an ace in the hole with this knockout performance. She was working it all weekend long, smiling, giving lots of time to reporters on the press line for both of her premieres and, very much in the vein of Reese Witherspoon for Wild, or Nicole Kidman prior to the Emmys for Big Little Lies, she tailors each of her answers to the media expertly. Also, her smile Does. Not. Stop. If it does, it’s only to throw in one of her signature laughs.
But she’s not just making herself available to the press, she’s also getting more and more active on Instagram.
I love this photo of her posing in front of a photo of herself at the Four Seasons in Toronto:
The photo in question was taken at the 2013 TIFF premiere of August: Osage County. She knew she had something then – an awards season contender, with some bonus Meryl Streep pedigree – and she knows she has something now, five years later. Her role in Ben is Back is much more complex than her role in August, and if the Roadside team is smart, they could launch her into campaign season with a run at Supporting. Sure, she’s basically a co-lead, but we’ve seen this before – most notably, perhaps, with Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl.
With posts like the one above, Julia is making herself more accessible, more meme-worthy, and playful, which is totally her style in person. Speaking of playful, Julia also responded to an Instagram troll for the first time when somebody called out her look in a “who wore it better” with Joan Crawford, tagging her in the process. A reader named Sammy sent this in, and it’s to die for:
Come on!!! The specificity! The sass! The emoji! “GARNET CRYSTALS.” Not only does Julia feel like something good is coming, but she’s reading up about herself online… and reading the comments. Never read the comments, unless you’re ready to play. And Julia sure as hell is.