Despite its strong start and commanding performances, this addiction drama written by Eli Saslow plays it frustratingly dull.
In Four Good Days, when heroin-addict Molly is asked what her triggers are, what could get her to use again, she replies, “My life’s a trigger…” Fellow addict Amanda Wendler takes things a step further, though, proclaiming, “Reality’s a trigger.” But Amanda isn’t another character in Molly’s story—she’s the inspiration behind it. In 2016, the Washington Post chronicled a few days in her fight for sobriety in their much lauded article, “How’s Amanda? A Story of Truth, Lies and American Addiction.”
It’s a harrowing and deeply personal article that examines America’s opioid addiction crisis through the lens of a single mother and daughter relationship. The daughter, struggling for the umpteenth time to get clean, only has to stay sober for four more days before she can be given a promising treatment. The mother, who’s been through the wringer time and again, is eager to trust her daughter that this time will be different, when there’s a decade of lying, stealing, and betrayal in their history.
It’s no wonder that journalist Eli Saslow saw the cinematic potential in the tale and turned screenwriter, translating it to the big screen in Four Good Days.
If Molly (Mila Kunis) can manage to stay clean for just four days, she’ll be able to take a monthly shot of naltrexone, which will prevent her from getting the high heroin delivers. Her mom, Deb (Glenn Close), knows that after 10 years of addiction, this could be her daughter’s best shot at staying clean and so the pair wait it out together.
The opening scene is full of promise. Molly’s banging on her mother’s door, begging to be let in, swearing up and down she’s ready to get clean, and it’s incredibly affecting to watch Deb tell her no. No, she can’t come in. No, she doesn’t believe her. It’s immediately clear that this isn’t the first time this has happened, that there’s years of struggle behind them. Close manages to perfectly convey Deb’s exhaustion and fear and sadness in her eyes and the subtle movements of her body that both wants to run to her daughter and is afraid to.
Unfortunately, the film slowly falls apart from here.
Despite how well the film re-creates the dramatic beats of the Washington Post story, it begins to veer more toward after-school special territory than dramatic narrative. Instead of trusting the audience to understand the nuances of the story, Four Good Days hits you over the head with its anti-drug message.
Despite how well the film re-creates the dramatic beats of the Washington Post story, it begins to veer more toward after-school special territory than dramatic narrative.
Director and co-writer Rodrigo García, showrunner for In Treatment, clearly has enough empathy and understanding for psychological turmoil to tackle Molly’s story, but somewhere along the line, things get off track.
Four Good Days fluctuates between being rigidly truthful to Saslow’s article and needlessly inventive. There’s a scene where Molly goes looking for an old friend that, despite being lifted straight from the Post’s story, feels strangely out of place. In yet another, a scene seems to be shoehorned in merely so Molly can make an impassioned speech about how difficult her life has been, as if the film didn’t trust that we could be empathetic toward her without it.
If the film were interested in being bolder and if it trusted its source material more, it wouldn’t feel so compelled to force Molly to spell out her internal struggles through monologues or leave its critique of the American healthcare system, the one that spawned this opioid crisis in the first place, to a few scattered asides.
There’s a compelling story to be told about a long-struggling addict and her long-suffering mother, and I don’t think overwrought metaphors or speeches are needed to make the point. There’s a way to do that while exploring the systems that exacerbate the struggle. But Four Good Days simply isn’t bold enough to go there, and by playing it safe “an excruciating story of American addiction” becomes forgettable.
Four Good Days is now available on video on demand.