There could easily be a sub-genre in the field of the dramatic arts devoted exclusively to stories about drug addiction. In recent years, especially in the era of an opioid epidemic, there have been a slew of titles on the subject (Ben Is Back and Beautiful Boy come to mind immediately). But just because we’ve seen many variations on the subject over the years doesn’t mean new films addressing the issue can’t be quite good. Case in point, Four Good Days is based on a true story by Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post writer Eli Saslow. The film concerns 31-year-old Molly (Mila Kunis), who shows up on the doorstep of her estranged mother Deb (Glenn Close, recently Oscar-nominated for playing the mother of another drug addicted daughter in Hillbilly Elegy), begging to be let in so that she can finally begin the much-needed process of kicking her heroin addiction. The problem is, Molly has tried this more than a dozen times in the past, and each time that Deb gives in and lets her in, something goes missing and Molly runs away.
After much arguing between the two women at the door (as well as commentary from Deb’s new husband Chris, played by Stephen Root), Deb agrees to drive Molly to a rehab clinic to detox for three days—only after she’s clean will she allow her back in the house. After the three days, Deb is told that there is a new monthly injection that will effectively make it impossible for her to get high, but that she must wait an additional four days to get the drugs out of her system so the injection won’t affect her adversely. Deb lets her in the house and acts as caretaker, guardian, and prison warden all at once. The chirping of the alarm every time a door opens or closes is Molly’s constant reminder that her mother doesn’t trust her any longer, nor should she, and the two must navigate around each other for these extra days, hoping and praying that Molly can stay clean.
Close is quite good here as the stressed out mother who is not willing to cut her daughter any slack in this process. She questions Molly’s every move, assumes everything is a lie, and keeps herself in the fight by remembering her daughter in better times. But it’s Kunis who really owns the screen in Four Good Days, barely recognizable, looking like her skin is rotting from the inside, with teeth to match. Every step of this process is difficult for her, and for every movement she takes forward toward a normal life, she runs the risk of becoming overwhelmed and failing. A visit from her ex and their two kids is equal parts fortifying and destabilizing, as she immediately thinks about how many times she chose her addiction over her kids. She knows her addiction is a disease but blames herself and others for all of her bad choices in life. It’s a terribly difficult performance to observe, but Kunis handles it and drags us along for the ride.
Directed by Rodrigo Garcia (Albert Nobbs), Four Good Days features a handful of worthy supporting performances as well from the likes of Joshua Leonard as Molly’s ex Sean and Carla Gallo as Molly’s lawyer sister Ashley, who is clearly resentful that Molly’s issues took their mother’s attention away from her over the years. In the end, the film boils down to being a waiting game—counting the seconds until Molly screws something up because of her impulse control issues or just old-fashioned boredom.
Putting us in Deb’s anxiety-filled shoes quite effectively, the movie can be merciless at times, as it gets us inside the head of a woman who doesn’t want to give up on her daughter but will do just that if it means saving her own sanity. We piece together their history over the course of the story, and it has rarely been stable. We learn that Deb left her first husband and two daughters for a couple years because she couldn’t stay with him any longer. Molly uses that fact as a guilt-trip ground zero with her mother, often blaming her for her condition, and Deb still holds some belief that it might be true. The film is loaded with examples of Molly skirting personal responsibility to get her way, and sometimes it works, while other times it backfires horribly.
Four Good Days never feels entirely familiar in its execution, even if the struggle might seem familiar. Close’s Deb is certainly more tolerable than her character in Elegy, and Kunis gives the best performance of her career. The film pulls no punches in its portrayal of addiction, but it also finds room for compassion and emotional devastation. If you think you can handle the subject matter, the movie is a worthwhile journey.
The film opens theatrically on Friday.
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