Fresh off her eighth Oscar nomination (and eighth loss), veteran actress Glenn Close stars in a new movie called Four Good Days, directed by her longtime collaborator Rodrigo Garcia and co-starring Mila Kunis. Based on a Washington Post article written by Eli Saslow (who also co-wrote the film’s script with Garcia), this is a dramatization of the true story of Amanda Wendler and Libby Alexander, respectively played by Mila Kunis and Glenn Close with the fictional names of Molly and Deb.
Recently, drug addiction has gained an important place in film narratives. This year alone, Lee Daniels explored the beginnings of drug war in the musical biopic The United States Vs. Billie Holiday, which earned its star, singer-turned-actress Andra Day, an Oscar nomination, while Nicholas Jarecki explored the opioid addiction epidemic in the thriller Crisis.
These were two interesting approaches, but drug addiction is generally explored in cinema through the family melodrama, that is, showing the way in which this disease lacerates family ties. Recent examples are Beautiful Boy (2018), Ben is Back (2018), The Tribes of Palos Verdes (2017), and August: Osage County (2013).
Four Good Days would be a new title on that list. Molly (Kunis) is a 31-year-old woman, mother of two, and a drug addict for 10 years who uses heroin, methadone, and crack. In poor physical condition, she returns to her mother’s home looking for help and a new opportunity. Deb (Close), however, does not trust her and refuses to let her stay in the house, supported by her husband Chris (Stephen Root).
Molly’s insistence eventually forces Deb to take her to a rehab center where she must undergo a detox diet. Nothing new for Molly, who has been through it fourteen times. The difference is that this time she is presented with the opportunity for a new treatment that could give her a fresh start, but to do so she must remain clean for another four days.
From now on, nothing interesting happens but what is expected of a movie like this. Deb and Molly must deal with mutual mistrust and face the wounds of the past. How did Molly become a junkie? Who is guilty?
According to Deb, doctors themselves are the ones to blame for her addiction. “You all put her in this situation,” she says in a recriminating tone to a doctor. Molly suffered an injury at the age of seventeen that led her to incessantly take prescribed medications. This moment is interesting because it reminds of scenes from August: Osage County and Ben is Back, in which Julia Roberts (who stars in both films) claims a doctor for the condition of her relative.
It seems as if these films want to criticize the healthcare system and the pharmaceutical industry by holding them responsible, at least in part, for this crisis. The problem is that none of it manages to delve into the subject and that criticism never reaches its full potential.
There is also the possibility that Molly’s drug addiction is the result of growing up with an absent mother. “I can’t apologize for trying to survive,” Deb tells Molly in her defense. In the end, none of this matter. They cannot change the past, but they can change the present and build a near future of stability, an idea that the film’s ending captures in a beautiful way.
More than a drug addiction drama, Four Good Days is a mother-daughter love story, powered by the chemistry that Close and Kunis create. As we would expect, Close is fantastic. Kunis, however, is the one who surprises with a very different role from her comedy register. In fact, I consider this her best performance since Black Swan (2010). It is a demonstration that with the right material she can shine in a unique way.
There is not much development of supporting characters. Four Good Days focuses too much on the main characters and relegates characters who may have contributed something valuable to the plot, such as Molly’s sister, father, and children. Yet the film remains compelling in its look at family dynamics. There is a shocking moment between Molly and her son that leaves you wondering for several minutes after seeing it, when he repeatedly says to her “you suck” as a joke? A very well-done moment of tension. Not to mention Molly’s cathartic confrontation with her past in front of some students, which is really affecting.
There are also some remarkable moments between Deb and Chris, who demands not to be used as a punching bag whenever Molly is around. Stephen Root delivers a formidable performance despite his short screen time.
Although Four Good Days sometimes falters and the dialogue is not exactly good (Deb repeats “f--k” for everything, even in some dramatic instances that are instead funny), Rodrigo García must be given credit for his compassionate vision. If you are familiar with his cinema, you should know that his films are full of empathy towards his characters, almost always working-middle-class women who go through difficulties but find strength to face life. Some worthy examples are Nine Lives (2005) and Mother and Child (2009).
Four Good Days opens in theaters April 30
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