Enough movies have focused on the sordid lives of junkies. Fewer have centered on the mental and emotional damage their disease brings to their loved ones.
In “Four Good Days,” opening on Friday, Glenn Close embodies this mixture of anxiety, sorrow, rage and guilt. Her character, Deb, has just seen her daughter, Mila Kunis’ Molly, appear on her doorstep, like a desperate stray, for the first time in a year and a half. Face pockmarked, teeth rotten, pleading for shelter or money, Molly is a barely functioning slave to her next hit of heroin; she is 31 going on 50. But she’s left her enabling addict boyfriend, and she’s ready to get clean, she says; she just needs a ride to detox. “I’ve heard this speech for 10 years,” Deb replies, mustering her deepest reservoirs of toughness and locking her daughter out.
The next night, in bed, Deb stares at the ceiling, and utters the most honest lines in the film: “Sometimes I get the feeling I don’t want to love her anymore. She scares the shit out of me.”
Eventually, though, Deb relents, driving her daughter to her 15th detox in 10 years. This one may finally stick, thanks to a doctor’s recommendation of an opioid antagonist, an injection said to reduce heroin cravings for 30 days. Molly just needs to wait four days after her final day of detox to qualify for the treatment, hence the film’s title.
Co-writer/director Rodrigo García adapted “Four Good Days” from “How’s Amanda? A Story of Truth, Lies and an American Addiction,” a wrenching, cinematically vivid Washington Post article from 2016. Its painful details, drawn from a real mother and daughter’s struggle, have the sting of truth, though García’s hand can be a heavy and burdensome one. The doleful piano music and litany of miseries are laid on so thick that we can’t help but feel manipulated from time to time. It’s as if the director doesn’t trust this heartbreaking material on its face.
This tendency to overstate, underline and unnecessarily punctuate his scenes is evident in both minor details—Deb recoiling at her daughter’s stench and rolling down her car window, when Molly’s olfactory emanations were already apparent—and whole scenes that feel drawn from some anti-drug marketing campaign. Deb’s visit to a flophouse, with its dimly lit gallery tour of addicts in various states of ingestion, injection and fornication, turns the depravity up to 11, satisfying every cliché of the genre. Through to the end, García finds comfort in hysterics, in the school of acting in which an increase in decibels means an increase in authenticity.
But look past its more gauche elements, and this is a powerful addition to the canon of addiction cinema, with more revealing takeaways than such humorless slogs as 2018’s “Beautiful Boy.” García and his cowriter Eli Saslow, who penned the Post piece, plant us in the tortured headspaces of both central characters, presenting their flaws and ultimately judging neither.
Moreover, “Four Good Days” helps the sober-minded viewer understand the duplicitous mindset of the addict, the torrent of lies and deceit that renders even their most innocent statements untrustworthy. And it considers the roots of addiction and the arbitrariness of its victims. How is it this former straight-A student, prescribed an oxy treatment after an injury at 17, became a heroin-dependent husk of her former self? It’s not a film that professes to offer an answer, let alone a miracle cure—just the hope that the next day is a little bit better than the last.
“Four Good Days” opens Friday, April 30 at IPIC, Regal Shadowood and Cinemark Palace in Boca Raton, and IPIC in Delray Beach.