Four Good Days
by Hope Madden
In many ways, Four Good Days feels like a Rodrigo Garcia film. The co-writer/director frequently spins tales of women, often mothers and daughters whose own pain keeps them from clearly seeing and addressing the pain they inflict.
His films (Nine Lives, Mother and Child, Albert Knobbs) routinely examine relationships built as much on survival as on love, and the strain that puts on people.
Glenn Close, a frequent Garcia collaborator, stars as Deb, put-upon mother of a drug addict. That addict, Molly, is played by Mila Kunis as you’ve never seen her. Kunis’s trademark big eyes swim in a gaunt face marked by the scars of the life of an addict, the actress’s million-dollar smile replaced with rotten nubs.
Kunis clearly lost a substantial amount of weight to complete the transformation from Hollywood sweetheart to hopeless addict. Her performance is not simply skin deep, either.
Characteristic of Garcia’s strongest films, the friction and flaws in these women leave the biggest impression. Kunis lands on the button-pushing most effective in manipulating her mother: chaos and accusation. In her hands, Molly is profoundly unlikable because why would she need anybody to like her? What does that get her? She shoots rapid-fire guilt and shame bullets at her mother and sees what hits.
Molly’s defenses and manipulations blend together so believably that when she does hit a note of emotional depth and sincerity, it’s heartbreaking.
Close’s performance is no less commendable, though her character is frustrating. The writing here has some trouble creating the natural if infuriating behaviors of a woman torn between protecting herself and believing in her daughter. Too often, the situations and behaviors feel like what they are: plot points meant to increase tension as we rush toward the inevitable climax.
Here is where Four Good Days (co-written with Eli Saslow) does not feel like a Rodrigo Garcia film.
The movie mainly makes up for these missteps. It’s a difficult film to watch in that it doesn’t tread on your sympathies, doesn’t create tragic and noble characters, doesn’t even ask you to like either lead. Instead, it insinuates itself in the battle between the shrill, ugly survival tactics a mother and daughter wield like daggers as they claw their way toward sobriety.