Let others dismiss stories of addiction and the awful ordeal of attempted recovery as a genre where over-familiarity has bred contempt. As long as America’s endless opioid epidemic goes on and as long as there are actors willing to “dress down” to be convincing in these roles, I’m on board.
We barely recognize Mila Kunis in her first moments in “Four Good Days.” She’s a wreck, head-to-toe, playing a manic addict pounding on her mother’s door — again. Molly hides her teeth, or what’s left of them, as she begs to come in, stringing together hopes and lies because she forgot the difference between them years ago.
Only Kunis’ Jim Parsons “sitcom stammer” gives away the actress beneath the dark black roots, sallow, pimpled face and breathless patter. It’s that affectation that sitcom-trained actors can’t shake, a too-obvious mannerism designed to make recited lines sound natural.
Mother Deb isn’t falling for the fake stammer or anything else. “I’ve heard this speech for ten years,” she mutters, closing the door with a firm “Get WELL.” As Glenn Close is playing her, we know she means business.
But what “Four Good Days” does better than most films on this subject is get at the parental guilt that lingers past that last moment Deb allowed herself to have hope. It’s what lets Molly wear Deb down and gives everybody, viewers included, that sliver of “This time she might mean it, she might get clean.”
The worn-out story arc covers a lot of familiar emotional ground, with the usual touchstones of such a journey. What’s novel here is how far down the road these two are. When Molly mentions her get-out-of-jail card, “rehab,” Mom calls her bluff. Deb grabs her keys and takes her.
But the testy argument at Deb’s front door, which spanned an evening and the next morning (Molly curled up on the porch to wear Deb down.) re-convenes at check-in.
Molly’s been in and out of such facilities 14 times. She’s been using heroin and methadone, Vicodin and whatnot 10 years. They’ll take her for three days, giving her chance to dry out, and a moment for her to cuss her mother out as she leaves.
They can also promise her a shot of an opioid antagonist, something that will kill her ability to get high off her chosen poisons. But to do that, she’s got to spend a further four days drying out. Her glowering mother and Mom’s not-that-encouraging second husband (Stephen Root) will have to let her in, put her up and put up with her as they try to keep temptation out of reach.
Director and co-writer Rodrigo García (“Nine Lives,” “Mother and Child”) keeps the focus narrow and the camera tight on his two stars as he pulls us into their complicated relationship. Each is a little too eager to point a finger at the other, or third parties, for Molly’s condition. Doctors over-prescribing Oxy for a high school injury is a story many a family could identify with. Deb left a bad marriage, which didn’t help things. An open drama like that tends to smother the hidden one that nobody wants to see.
Close lets us see Deb’s wariness, the callouses of mistrust that has her keeping her “problem” child at arm’s length, leaving her non-addict daughter (Carla Gallo) attention-deprived and resentful.
Kunis loses herself in Molly’s selfish amorality, showing us an addict’s convenient memory lapses — “I didn’t really sell your wedding rings, did I?” — and her practiced skill at poker-faced whoppers, the time-proven lies that give her wriggle room to get back in trouble, all over again.
Movies like this invite the viewer to second guess Deb, to put up our guard against another lie, another betrayal. We’re just waiting on another chance for Molly to let “shame” and her other “triggers” break her mother’s heart.
“At this point, all I have left is hope” is a line any mother of an addict can appreciate.
“Four Days” doesn’t cover much new ground, and some moments play as simple theatrics, such as when Molly called in to give a “scared straight” lecture to a classmate’s high school students.
But the arguments feel real and lived-in, two for pushing each other’s buttons and cutting to the quick.
Close lets us see Deb’s temper and panic and guilt and desperation, and rarely lets us remember the actress underneath. Kunis isn’t in her league, but more than holds her own in a role that rides on the wreck she transforms herself into.
“Four Good Days” never threatens to become a definitive film in an oft-filmed genre. But good acting, some seriously touching moments and lofty intentions lock us in on these “Four Good Days,” and have us, like everybody on the screen, just hoping for the best.
MPA Rating: R for drug content, language throughout and brief sexuality
Cast: Glenn Close, Mila Kunis, Stephen Root and Joshua Leonard.
Credits: Directed by Rodrigo García, scripted by Rodrigo García, Eli Saslow. A Vertical release.
Running time: 1:40