Glenn Close and Mila Kunis play characters inspired by a real-life mother and daughter in “Four Good Days.” Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Eli Saslow co-wrote the screenplay with director Rodrigo Garcia, who reunites for the fourth time with lead actress Close in this tense, tightly-structured drama about a longtime heroin addict and a determined but exhausted mother’s fight to keep her clean.
Based on Saslow’s 2016 Washington Post article, “Four Good Days” begins its sharp narrative with a sharp knock. Molly (Kunis) has returned to her mother’s house after what we later learn is an 18-month bender. She is ready to get sober, she swears, but it’s nothing Deb (Close) hasn’t heard before. The audience grows familiar with their decade-long plight on the drive to the detox center, where they repeat a familiar cycle of lies, frustration and pain. Until a doctor offers the desperate pair a new lifeline – a treatment that could finally help Molly’s addiction after years of self-destruction.
All she has to do is stay clean for four days. If drugs are in her system when she receives the shot, she could die.
Saslow and Garcia don’t tell us about Molly and Deb’s shared history – they show us, with real conversations that slowly and organically reveal what they’ve been through. They give us only part of the picture, not unlike the unfinished jigsaw puzzle in Deb’s garage that Molly left 18 months ago, before disappearing again.
Rodrigo and Saslow give the film structure, but the actors give it substance. Close and Kunis feel not only like a real mother and daughter, but like they’ve truly been through this saga before – and they do justice to real-life article subjects Libby Alexander and Amanda Wendler. This is clearly not a new struggle, but it could be a new chance at something better if they get through it together.
That doesn’t mean “Four Good Days” is saccharine or falsely hopeful – their struggles are clear without being gory and gruesome. We see the effect on not just Molly’s health in her body and appearance, but in her life decisions as we learn more about her past and what her life could have been if drugs hadn’t interfered. But it’s the emotional trauma played out with her mother that shows viewers what this kind of situation does to families. Not in an overarching intrapersonal sense, but with each painful day. It is exhausting, and perfectly executed. It will make you think about this affliction in a new way.
It also offers an empathetic take on the addict’s perspective – the psychology of someone who doesn’t want to be this way, rather than just the other side of it – statistics, science, therapies. Kunis is perfect at portraying a woman whose true personality is slowly coming through the haze of substance abuse, withdrawal and the desperate desire to stay sober.
Close said she took the role because she wanted to put a face to a statistic. While recent offerings like “Beautiful Boy” and “Ben Is Back” have tackled true stories of drug abuse and the emotionally raw aspects of the opioid epidemic, “Four Good Days” feels the most real of any of them. While the energy runs low and grating, the stakes feel incredibly high because of the four-day time frame. We wonder if Molly is going to get through it, and how Deb will cope if she can’t. It is the perfect boiling-down of an overwhelming, nationwide problem into two people, sitting in a dingy garage, waiting.
Waiting to see how the rest of their lives will be, if they can make it through four good days.
“Four Good Days” opens in theaters April 30.