Directed By Rodrigo Garcia
Starring – Mila Kunis, Glenn Close, Stephen Root
The Plot – In an emotional journey based on a true story by Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post writer Eli Saslow, 31-year-old Molly (Kunis) begs her estranged mother Deb (Close) for help fighting a fierce battle against the demons that have derailed her life. Despite all she has learned over a decade of disappointment, grief and rage, Deb throws herself into one last attempt to save her beloved daughter from the deadly and merciless grip of heroin addiction.
Rated R for drug content, adult language throughout and brief sexuality
– Dramatic heft. This is seen in the eyes of its two leading ladies, who elevate the often conventional material for a duo of spellbinding performances that consistently captivate you through 95 minutes of this film. It’s anything but hyperbole to say that this is definitely Kunis’ best work to date, embodying Molly with a free-flowing wave of anger, pain, and regret that wash over her periodically throughout the film. Kunis also undertakes a physical transformation that has her looking as ghastly and unappealing in contrast to the breathtakingly beautiful figure we’ve come to love and appreciate throughout her respective filmography. More on that in a second. Close also turns in another brilliant performance as Deb, a woman with her own closeted demons that may or may not have played into Molly’s current condition. As few upper echelon actresses can capably do, Close toes a thin line in her emotional registry which keeps her on her toes consistently without falling into the depths of sagging melodrama. Her evolving emotions are made all the more apparent with the more vulnerability that the character must forcefully accept, and the intentionally awkward chemistry between her and Kunis works wonders to giving their relationship a very lived-in quality that makes their Mother/Daughter interaction all the more believable because of such.
– Subtle enhancements. The one area in this film where production is able to influence the visuals of the film is in the make-up and prosthetics designs, which convey Molly’s decaying well-being. The details serve as an abundance of ingredients, big and small, that emit stark contrast to an unbelievably permanent disposition, often unnerving me whenever one was given unabashed focus in the framing of the shot compositions. There’s expected bruising, cuts and scarring in Kunis’ facial registry, as well as a lighter color of skin tone that envelopes the sickly harm being done internally. However, easily the biggest piece of effective detail for me was in the teeth prosthetics, primarily the original ones that are rotted away from decades of drug interaction. Very few things in cinema make me wince from realism, but these teeth are unapologetically gnarly in their design, and are the biggest example of the physical toll that this disease has played on a once beautifully pristine young woman.
– Pivotally educational. Perhaps now more than ever, it’s films like “Four Good Days” that deserve universal attention and dedication for the abundance of education that it unloads on its audience. While all of the physical signs of addiction certainly persist in Kunis’ sagging embodying, it’s the expositional facts dispersed carefully along the way that are most alarming, giving way to a bigger picture of the who, how and why that has allowed heroin to grow to near pandemic levels of exposure. In particular, I credited screenwriters Rodrigo Garcia and Eli Saslow for shedding light on the medical profession’s accessibility to gateway drugs that may or may not be a welcoming mat for a future of use ahead. The script urges responsibility in this regard without fully blaming this side for such, equally supplanting that an addict must want to help themselves before anyone else effectively can, outlining an uphill battle that, as the movie says, illustrates how 97% of heroin users relapse in their fight for sobriety. This is a film that is great for all sides of this ongoing war, and one that urges patience as well as accountability for what lies ahead, and truly making four days of wait feel eternal in the context of so many environmental enablers persisting.
– Unique dynamics. Aside from this being a film about Molly’s trials and tribulations, I equally felt creatively nourished by a series of fleshed-out character perspectives that prove this disease hurts so much more than just the user. That statement probably sounds cliche, but Garcia never loses site of the parents who have grown tired of Molly’s deceit, or like the ex-husband with his own burdens now that he is the primary caregiver and breadwinner for the family, or Molly’s sister who selfishly but justifiably feels forgotten in the focus of her parents, and Molly’s own two children who can’t possibly understand why their Mom doesn’t seem to have an interest in either of their lives. The movie uses this to flesh out Molly’s sacrifice, but not in a way that feels manipulative in the boundaries of drama, momentarily requiring it to illustrate why their lack of confidence in her feels justified in the eyes of the audience. It gives insight into the dreaded pasts that have gotten us here, allowing the movie to transcend its temporary captivation for a bigger picture that serves as a step to where we now stand with initial introductions, which in turn gives them movie a certification of authenticity that a vulnerably honest story like this requires in execution.
– Light touch. While nothing that is experimentally ambitious with unique compositions or first person perspectives bleeding into the movie’s production, the film’s warm aesthetics punch is one that I felt played terrifically in contrast to Molly, and the kind of environment she gave up when going underground for artificial stimulation. The color scheme for the movie isn’t quite the sunbaked scenery most known in west coast settings, but there is a warm nourishment that washes over the visuals and backdrops for the movie that seems to outline a feeling of hope and light for Molly, as opposed to the darkness she has consistently faced. In addition to this, I credit cinematographer Igor Jadu-Lillo, as well as the movie’s editors, for these unabashed long takes of facial resonation shots through big reveals. This not only plays into the candid appeal of the performances that I previously praised, but also keeps the focus of the scene it needs to be in the receiving character who now sees matters in light that they previously did not. The film is saddled with a cheap production ($4 million), but not one that I feel was ever weighed down by the movie’s presentation, playing into the sun constantly rising even when the characters feel like it won’t because of their disastrous devastation.
– Diverse device. In recent years, we have gotten addiction dramas like “Ben is Back”, “Bodybrokers”, or my personal favorite “Beautiful Boy”, but what all of those films have in common is what makes “Four Good Days” a refreshing take on an otherwise convoluted folder of films in current day. Because this is a young woman’s perspective, and one that is made all the more complex with the Mother/Daughter dynamic at the forefront, you get an idea of the objects that women are used and abused as within the drug community, which in turn takes the ability to score to hauntingly more depressing avenues of expression that we haven’t seen in an addiction film since “The Basketball Diaries”, the personal best of the genre, in my opinion. In addition to this, we are shown how women are able to attain and take advantage of family links all the easier, which in turn makes them all the more vulnerable for relapsing because of the unforeseen environmental ingredients that only a woman could capably exploit in the face of gender stereotypes.
– Bland direction. Rodrigo Garcia is possibly his own worst enemy in the execution of his film, which speaks volumes to the mostly television offerings that supplant a majority of his respective filmography. For starters, there’s a sanitized encompassing to the film’s storytelling that doesn’t match or enhance the measures of production that I previously praised for the gruesome detail that they supplant to imagery. In addition to this, the film can’t help but fall for the same tired tropes and cliches associated within the genre that makes each mediocre film in this respect feel like they’re following one continuous formula, and stamping us with a feeling of reminder and predictability as something we’ve seen done and done better in previous installments. It takes a story that is so intriguing in that every one of us have either dealt with addiction, or know somebody who has, and gives it a safe, by the numbers approach that undercuts the urgency and fragility of the narrative, and leaving us with a soulless embodying too routine to take chances.
– A different suffering. “Four Good Days” isn’t a film that I would call boring by any stretch of the imagination, but it is one better served with pacing that could’ve replicated the abundance of matters taking place on-screen. Yes, this is one of those films where so much is taking place, yet nothing is taking place in the lasting effect of characters and situations, making every second spent during these four days feel like an exercise in futility instead of a narrative building to the movie’s climax. Most of the scenes feel every bit repetitive as they do meandering for some shred of dramatic depth that beyond that performances simply isn’t there, and makes the characters (Even the sober ones) feel unhinged in the face of unjustified actions and movements for the sake of Molly being a time-established liar in the face of her loved ones. For my money, I wish the second act could’ve focused more on Molly’s past, especially a subplot with her father that somehow feels unimportant to the bigger picture. That would’ve taken some of the weight off from sequences that mimically move together, but are just shuffled slightly different in structure to fool the audience, eventually leading to a climax that is anything but for the way it crams as many incidents as possible to the film’s closing ten minutes.
– Occasional nagging. These are a couple of instances in the film that produced unintentional laughs to sequences that are supposed to be dramatically complex. This is yet another film that has audio issues with its post-production deposits, though entirely just Close’s work, which I was able to count four different instances throughout the film. Apparently, her line reads during the scene walkthrough’s must have been terrible because her lips distort in a way that doesn’t even remotely mouth what is being said by her character, requiring a recording by her after the movie is done shooting to fix matters. At least the volume mixing is consistent within the context of the scene, it’s just that the A.D.R itself for the dialogue feels like one that was dubbed over in English from a foreign original, supplanting what is easily the eighth instance that I’ve had of this in a film this year. In addition to this, and another measure that could be pinned to the flagging direction, is the video game acting by Kunis and her on-screen son. It’s funny to see the game being nothing but a spaceship shoot em up, and then see their movements to the controller looking like a tournament style fighting game. This is a common cliche in movies where adults play with kids, and it constantly bothers me because it overreacts during sequences when less is more in the realm of believability. Chill out.
– Obviousness. Hollywood has a time honored trope in films where if something happens, everything will be alright, and nothing can possibly go wrong along the way. “Four Good Days” is the latest victim of this perspective, slaying uncertainty and vulnerability with heavy-handed exposition that can only possibly be mentioned because it’s eventually leading to what a character is saying materializing before our very eyes. On its own, the plot device itself is a bit too neat and clean for the resolution of the character, making us believe that four days and this special DRUG (More of those, yay!!) will cure this woman’s addiction, despite the fact that she’s relapsed from rehab fourteen times previously. On top of this, the film’s ending itself is a bit of a cop-out, sacrificing some last minute hefty drama for a resolution that frustratingly embodies the safety net that I previously alluded to, making these four days too watered down to be an honest portrayal.
My Grade: 6/10 or C