THE STORY – Emerging from a detox clinic, a young addict must stay clean while living with her mother for the next four days.
THE CAST – Glenn Close, Mila Kunis & Stephen Root
THE TEAM – Rodrigo García (Director/Writer) & Eli Saslow (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 100 Minutes
By Dan Bayer
Addiction dramas are a dime a dozen. The details of who is addicted to what, where they live, and why they decide to get high and/or clean may differ, but the basic structure, characterization, and even some of the dialogue are all pretty much the same. There’s the one about the group of Scottish punks, the one about the father and son, the one about the married or soon-to-be-married couple…the only thing that lets one rise above the myriad others is the filmmaking style. “Four Good Days” is the one about the mother and daughter played by Glenn Close and Mila Kunis. Unfortunately, the filmmaking style is the same as any other generic American indie, but when you have actors working at the level Close and Kunis are working at, do you really need a whole lot of style?
The answer, of course, is “it depends.” Right from the start, it’s apparent that the leading ladies are both going for broke, pouring themselves into the characters. Kunis is a raw nerve as Molly, widening her already large eyes so much that you believe her detoxing desperation. Close makes you feel every ounce of mama Deb’s weariness and worry, constantly acutely aware of the precariousness of any moment of happiness or calm. Molly first got addicted to drugs at 17, when she sprained her ankle and was given a prescription for oxycontin (a fact that Deb lobs accusingly at every doctor she meets), and has been to a detox center 14 times in the intervening 14 years. When a doctor offers Molly a shot of an “opioid antagonist,” which effectively blocks the high of opioids, Molly agrees to it. However, she needs to stay clean for four more days in order for the heroin to leave her system entirely. For the characters, that means four days of living together, which means four days full of triggers and four days of worry on both women’s parts that something will go wrong, that Molly will once again screw up, and this all will have been for naught.
For the audience, this means four days (in movie time) of every standard addiction drama plot point: the distrust, the recriminations over past trauma, the arguing over who or what is to blame for the addiction, the detours to other family members whose lives have been affected by the addiction (including Molly’s two children), the potential relapse, and the guilt trips. “Four Good Days” was based on a newspaper article written by Eli Saslow, who collaborated on the screenplay with director Rodrigo Garcia. The dialogue does have a certain ring of journalistic truth to it. The problem is that, like Deb with Molly, we’ve heard this all before. Many times. In the face of such well-meaning but generic dialogue, it is up to the actors to do most if not all of the heavy lifting, and Close and Kunis give it their all. This turns out to be a bit of a double-edged sword, as each of them has at least one scene that is badly overacted, sitting alongside multiple scenes that work only because the two of them are so fully committed.
Given a choice to either spice up the material with some big swing of style or let everything simply play out in front of the camera, Garcia has leaned heavily towards the latter route. While he has thankfully not employed the aggressively naturalistic shaky-cam style that seems to be most filmmakers’ drug of choice these days, he has instead decided to amplify the melodrama, using a series of gently sweeping camera moves and a simple yet aggressive score to punctuate the film’s most emotional moments. This leaves the film even more emotionally manipulative than it is on the page, and it was quite emotionally manipulative on its own.
So, where does this leave the film? “Four Good Days” feels like a film that would not work without its two central performances. What Close and Kunis bring to the film cannot be overstated, as they elevate scene after scene with strong character work and a prickly but touching – and utterly convincing – mother-daughter chemistry. But all things being equal, the film would likely fail without performers of their caliber. When combined with the generic script and heavy-handed score, the basic cinematography and uninspired editing leave this feeling like just another addiction drama. Without those two performances, there would hardly be any reason to remember it at all. Close and Kunis make “Four Good Days” watchable, even good, but not even they can save it completely.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – Incredibly strong performances from Glenn Close and Mila Kunis give this addiction drama serious emotional heft.
THE BAD – The bland screenplay, over-used score, and flat cinematography don’t do them any favors.
THE OSCARS – Best Original Song (Nominated)