Addiction has always made for some visceral storytelling. From Trainspotting and Requiem for a Dream to Girl, Interrupted and 28 Days to When A Man Loves a Woman or last year’s Hillbilly Elegy–and countless more–movies have covered seemingly every possible angle of addiction and its consequences. There is even a popular sitcom, Mom, that stars Oscar-winner Allison Janney, that is about a group of friends from AA. There has never been a dearth of stories to tell, and with the current opioid crisis gripping America, there will only be more to come.
One of the first significant films to sprout from that opioid crisis is Four Good Days, a film based on a 2016 Washington Post article by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Eli Saslow titled, “How’s Amanda; A story of truth, lies and American addiction,” which tells the true story of Amanda Wendler’s battle with heroin addiction and her mother’s desperate attempts to cope. The film, starring Glenn Close and Mila Kunis and directed by Rodrigo Garcia, premiered at Sundance last year and is now finally coming to theaters. Whether or not the filmmakers intended for Close’s previous film, also a family/addiction drama, to still be in moviegoers’ minds, thanks to the Oscars being delayed, it certainly doesn’t help its case that Four Good Days not only feels like Hillbilly Elegy in different clothing (and wig), but also fails to have anything new to say.
Like an extended episode of Intervention, Four Good Days is the story of 31-year old addict Molly (Kunis) who shows back up at her mother’s house, looking for a place to sleep, promising that this time, she really, really is going to quit. The problem is, her mother, Deb (Close), has been through this before. Having learned the hard way that tough love is the only way to go, she at first rejects her daughter’s pleas and refuses to take her in until she can prove that she’s clean. But, as she’s done countless times before, she eventually gives in, not able to see her child suffering. Deb takes Molly to rehab, for the 15th time, but, this time, at the end of it, the doctor offers a new drug to Molly, that, if taken when clean, would eliminate the effect of getting high. The only problem is, she has to get the drugs completely out of her system, which would take four days. So Deb agrees to let Molly stay with her and her husband (Stephen Root) for those four key days. As you might expect, the days are fraught with pain, heartache, fights, recriminations, regret and some genuine moments of clarity and compassion.
Unfortunately, they are also filled with every well-trodden addiction/recovery cliché that we’ve seen in every single drug abuse story ever made.
Despite the fact that Garcia and Saslow, who co-wrote the script, make a film that feels authentic and relatable, it is exceedingly paint-by-numbers, hitting every single beat you expect it to, from the graphic withdrawal scenes to the drug-infested flop-house, to the myriad emotions on both sides, nary an unpredictable moment. If it weren’t for the star power in front of the camera, Four Good Days would be easily at home on a basic cable channel, a melodramatic, seen-it-before, sentimental heart-tugger that makes an attempt to speak to some important issues while telling a moving personal story, but, sadly, fails at both.
There is, however, one element of Four Good Days that monumentally lifts the film from the Lifetime abyss, and that is Mila Kunis’ performance, which is intensely committed and hugely satisfying. While you may think the main draw of this film is Glenn Close, right on the heels of her Oscar-nominated performance in the similarly-themed Hillbilly Elegy, it is Kunis who shapes Four Good Days into something watchable, and it is difficult to take your eyes off her, not just because she seems transformed and literally unrecognizable, but because she’s believable and effective. While Close overplays her character’s anxiety and desperation, Kunis’s trauma feels lived-in, and it’s easy to see the simmering beneath her façade. Even though Kunis came close to an Oscar nomination for 2010’s Black Swan, she still may not yet be considered a formidable dramatic actress. This will change that.
Close is disappointing, as is the rest of this film, but Kunis is able to provide the audience something to grasp within the slog of banality that Four Good Days ends up being. Her performance may not be worth sitting through this whole film for, but it certainly does make it tolerable.
Vertical Entertainment will release Four Good Days in theaters on April 30.