Four Good Days strains itself to convey a hardened tale of mother-daughter turmoil through the lens of a bleak addiction drama to the point that it eventually feels like a dirge deliberately inflicted upon the audience. There’s incredible value in an unflinching cinematic portrayal of difficult material, but Rodrigo Garcia’s film seems hellbent on wallowing in its seriousness in a manner that elevates emotional grandstanding over any grounded humanity. There’s a sort of performative angst at the film’s thematic core that sidesteps any true character depth and leaves viewers with no choice but to wait out its telegraphed narrative trajectory.
Ironic that this film is being released in the immediate aftermath of Oscars, in which perennial nominee Glenn Close once again went home empty-handed, this time for her performance in Ron Howard’s already-infamous Hillbilly Elegy adaptation. That film tangentially covers the same downward spiral of opioid addiction at the center of Four Good Days, with Close playing a similarly angry, fed-up, tough-love maternal figure. Everything about Elegy is cynically caricatured, but there’s no denying it leans into its lurid melodrama. Four Good Days, meanwhile, postures itself as a stone-cold truth-teller, when in reality it peddles many of the same nauseating tropes.
This time around, Close isn’t caked in Oscar-bait makeup, though she does sport an impressively bad wig for no discernible reason while playing Deb, a middle-aged suburbanite who maintains the appearance of a life of peaceful balance, though her reality is much rockier. As the film opens, Deb is visited by her daughter, Molly (Mila Kunis), begging for help. Gaunt, frail, and toothless, Molly is a longtime addict making what we sense is the latest of many attempts to get clean. Underscoring that long, tortuous history, Deb’s response isn’t one of warmth but rather hostility. There’s both an unnerving immediacy and suggestion of cyclical history in this opening scene, a sense that love has started eroding into resentment in the years leading up to this moment.
If only the film managed to carry that nuance forward. Granted, it’s a difficult task, but one that Garcia has managed before. The veteran filmmaker has long been focused on woman-centered stories of emotional complexity, and his 2010 film Mother and Child remains a masterpiece of messy, layered humanity. No doubt Four Good Days is aiming for a similar exploration of acute emotional trauma and chronic familial bitterness, but it ends up well on the wrong side of that thin line between empathy and exploitation.
There is a ticking clock element to the film’s premise: after staying at a rehab facility for three days, Molly must stay clean on her own for four more days in order to qualify for an opioid antagonist treatment, a monthly injection that essentially prevents a person from getting high. Deb reluctantly allows Molly to stay at her home to work through the four-day struggle, which isn’t presented with the wrenching immediacy one might expect, but rather becomes a way for the film to ease into conventional tropes of a recovering addict. There are awkward encounters with former acquaintances, rocky reunions with family members, a grandstanding moment where Molly gets to tell off a judgmental twit, and an obvious verge-of-relapse scene in which Deb assumes Molly is trying to score drugs but actually isn’t. Each of these scenes seems to operate on its own tonal wavelength, as if the screenplay was awkwardly compiled of several independent temp scenes. Garcia and co-writer Eli Saslow attempt to unify the disparate elements into a film that feels lived in, but they’re so anxious for easy payoff moments that the character dynamics are never able to form organically.
Saslow wrote the Washington Post article on which this film is based, a profile of an estranged mother and daughter who reconnected as the daughter sought recovery. What’s so glaringly missing from Four Good Days is the first-person perspective of that real-life story. This film wants so badly to be even-handed that it doesn’t allow the audience to identify with any of the characters, so what should be a very personal story of addiction and recovery becomes nothing more than a generic presentation of unremitting misery.