When Deb (Glenn Close) hears a frantic knocking at her door one day, she knows the drill. Her estranged daughter Molly (Mila Kunis), a decade-long heroin addict, has returned once more asking for help. Deb has tried to get Molly clean no fewer than 14 times, with each attempt ending in failure as well as the loss of various valuable goods. But Molly swears this time is different. With a high chance of relapse, she’s offered a new option: an opioid antagonist, which will effectively prevent her body from getting high. All she needs to do is be clean for four more days in the security of a place free of drugs and bad influences.
On paper, Four Good Days seems like a stereotypical indie drama, the kind destined for a premiere at Sundance (which this movie did have last year). It’s a heart-wrenching story inspired by true events, in this case, an article from The Washington Post. It boasts a celebrated director, Rodrigo Garcia, who is a well-recognized presence on the festival circuit. It contains weighty themes explored by de-glammed actors to the backdrop of the American condition. It’s hard to overlook the sheer familiarity of this narrative. That’s not a feeling that dissipates when you actually see the movie.
That’s not to damn Four Good Days or dismiss its qualities. It’s derivative, but that’s not necessarily bad. It has all the makings of a rather good movie too. Glenn Close is one of our best actresses and a reliable force in even the most thinly sketched out roles. Mia Kunis is a star who has always deserved better than the often limiting material she’s been given over the years. Garcia knows his way around a family drama, especially one centered on women. Plus, his creative team is doing the work here, from the solid cinematography to the effective contrasts of the wigs on the leading stars’ heads. They believe in this story and want to do it justice, but it’s tough to escape the crushing familiarity of it all.
Then again, I think that may be the point. Does an addiction narrative really need a fresh coat of paint? America’s opioid crisis and the shocking ineptitude, as well as outright ignorance, of the government’s response to the problem is the nation’s elephant in the room. It’s a horrific cycle that has repeated itself more times than we care to count, and it doesn’t change in appearance or expectations. To put it bluntly, it always sucks, and our own weariness with seeing it play out over and over again is part of the trap.
We see this most effectively in the opening scenes of Four Good Days. Deb forces herself to be the bad guy to her own kid, and Garcia keeps the focus on her as she deals with her conflicting emotions over once more being Molly’s go-to person for help, money, lies, or whatever she needs at that moment in time. The most striking moments of the film are in its willingness to show how much addiction changes those around the addict. Deb clings to the crumbling pieces of hope that Molly offers, even as she sleeps with her purse under her bed and recites all the objects her daughter sold for heroin as easily as her ABCs. Sometimes, Deb barely seems to know how to look at her own kid, something that provides the best actor showcase for Close, a star whose greatest moments as a performer often come when she says nothing at all (consider the last scene of Dangerous Liaisons or her listening in on the Nobel Prize phone call in The Wife.)
It’s not hard to see why Close and Kunis would be drawn to this project, which manages to be a great performance platform without wholly descending into shouty monologues or Lifetime movie tropes. When the film gives in to those moments, the potency of the narrative leaves the room, as when Kunis gives a ‘don’t do drugs’ speech to a group of cynical teenagers. Pale-skinned, with ragged hair and some seriously grotesque dental trauma on display, Kunis plays Molly as a woman ashamed of her own body, as if she’s eager to claw off her own skin and find something better underneath. The most impactful moments of rawness emerge separately from the familiar addiction drama beats, but the story needs them because we know this rodeo as well as the back of our hand.
The main problem with Four Good Days, aside from its familiarity, is that Garcia doesn’t seem to trust himself or his actors to get the job done. The token indie piano score interjects in those emotional scenes where silence would be more effective, undercutting the work of Close and Kunis. One especially striking scene involving the ever-reliable Stephen Root suffers from this. For a story that craves an exploration of the liminal spaces between such narratives, it’s a shame that Four Good Days often quickly skates back to the easy-to-categorize storytelling beats. This includes an ending that feels like something of a rush-job cop-out, even if the thought process behind it makes sense. Said ending also features an almost hilariously clunky metaphor that made this reviewer cringe, a disheartening note on which to end the film.
It’s hard to grumble about a movie this earnest, one of many narratives trying eagerly to force a spotlight onto an issue that has devastated millions of lives yet remains a nationwide punching bag when it’s not being actively ignored. Four Good Days takes the familiar route but has enough sharp twists and quiet moments to outweigh the cliches. Of course, it’s not as if addiction is bereft of cliché. That’s, unfortunately, kind of the point.
Four Good Days premieres in theaters on limited release on April 30, before a VOD release on May 21.
Epidemiologists do not think it’s safe yet to go to theaters even with social distancing and safety measures in place. This review of a theatrical release is not an endorsement or suggestion otherwise. This film was reviewed via a screening link.
Header Image Source: Vertical Entertainment