Four Good Days treats addiction in an intelligent way, has two good performances, but pulls the ripcord on a more daring ending.
I had my reservations about Four Good Days going in. Films like this tend to have Hollywood actors or actresses slumming it, but nothing physically is ever wrong with them that a good haircut and decent shower couldn’t fix. Very rarely will a film even get the mannerisms and symptoms from the most common forms of mental health disorders most addicts suffer from.
Take a film like Beautiful Boy, for example. That film shows the titular character of Nicolas without a dramatic loss in weight from hunger or even depression. Nicolas doesn’t have any sores on his body from scratching, usually from developing tingling sensations beneath the skin from their meth use. Nicolas’s teeth should be yellow or blackened, from the lack of saliva produced as a result of the addiction. None of these physical signs are present during the film.
That film comes from the perspective of the parents. While Four Good Days comes from both Deb (Glenn Close), who sees her daughter, Molly (Mila Kunis), a 15-time loser of the substance abuse recovery game. Molly shows up at her door, this time with worn down to the nub teeth, or none at all, which is not at all uncommon. She looks and is acting manic and has the look of someone who has been up for weeks searching for her next score.
Rodrigo García and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Eli Saslow’s script gets most of these little moments right. A receptionist at a substance abuse clinic wouldn’t at all be surprised; nor would it be uncommon to see a dealer parked down the street serving the clientele leaving a detox facility. Kind of like putting a donut shop next to your local gym.
The struggle with addiction he creates is very real, with the talk of triggers and their natural friction that causes stress on both ends. There is a moment where you may question a melodramatic moment of the daughter blaming her mother for abandonment as eyeballing. However, this is a very real childhood trauma that can lead to mental health issues that will end up with self-medication.
Garcia has a natural rapport with Close, who collaborated on Albert Nobbs. Garcia’s work on HBO’s groundbreaking In Treatment is a real asset here. Just when you think everything is going so well, reality sets in that is almost darkly comic. Kunis, outside of Black Swan, has never been better than here. Close is a spitfire and isn’t afraid to show everyone she’s not a victim, but also someone who is an antagonist.
Where Four Good Days falls short is that it is not brave enough to let its audience see an honest outcome; the script pulls the ripcord on something more daring. Though, this was based on the nonfiction book, How’s Amanda? A Story of Truth, Lies, and an American Addiction by Eli Saslow. It is a loose adaptation and more of a character study than anything with real grit (which it does have some of); it’s an effective film that’s emotionally charged at times with the added bonus of being well-acted, reasoned, and entertaining.
This may not be a groundbreaking film on substance abuse, but a mainstream attempt that is smart enough to care about its subject matter. It even has some honesty… well, at least until it doesn’t.