Anyone who saw the movie “Beautiful Boy” – the fact-based 2018 addiction drama starring Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet as a father and son struggling with the younger man’s drug dependency – will already be familiar with the narrative rhythms of the similarly themed “Four Good Days.”
Much like Felix Van Groeningen’s movie, based on dueling addiction memoirs by Nic Sheff and his father, journalist David Sheff, “Four Good Days” tells a lightly fictionalized version of a harrowing true story, first presented by Washington Post reporter Eli Saslow in his powerful 2016 article about a Michigan mother’s efforts to help her adult daughter kick heroin. (Saslow co-wrote the screenplay with director Rodrigo García.)
The ebb and flow of the new film aren’t new – or, sadly, even uncommon. Lies, pleading, desperate promises and relapse are among the patterns of behavior on the part of Mila Kunis’s addict Molly; with repeated capitulation, followed by zero tolerance and then more capitulation on the part of Glenn Close’s weary but still caring mother, Deb.
What sets “Four Good Days” apart from the many other films of its ilk are Close and Kunis, who sharpen and elevate its well-worn contours with vivid performances that are honest and grounded. These are characters you can connect to on both sides of the equation.
The film picks up their journey about 10 years into Molly’s battle with opiates, which began with a prescription for painkillers after an injury, before segueing to crack, Adderall, heroin and Methadone – and the opening of a painful rift between mother and daughter. As the film gets underway, Deb is agreeing, despite her best instincts and resolve, to again take Molly in, although she’s not yet clean.
A new drug therapy – the “opioid antagonist” Naltrexone, which promises to block the effect of opiates with a monthly shot, taking away the high that feeds addiction – beckons. There’s only one catch: Molly can’t start taking it until her system is completely free of all the substances she’s been abusing. She’s got four more days to go.
What transpires is what you’d expect made viscerally real by two strong actresses. Close is at her best when Deb is struggling to feel normal – during a quick catch-up lunch at a diner, for instance, with her “good” daughter (Carla Gallo) – as Deb suddenly realizes that she’s forgotten her wallet at home. She can’t enjoy 15 minutes of downtime, we learn, because Molly could be looking for cash to buy a fix.
That tidal pull Deb feels – part love, part mistrust, part guilt – is palpable, as palpable as the hunger of the monkey on Molly’s back. And Kunis does her best to keep up with Close in a performance that’s raw and unglamorous.
Saslow’s story captured that rawness and power. If the movie based on it isn’t quite so visceral as the true story was – transplanted here from Detroit to the California desert, it feels a bit prettified – “Four Good Days” is nevertheless effective.
It hurts where it should, yet lands with a touch of hope.
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