May 5, 2021
by Carla Hay
Directed by Rodrigo García
Culture Representation: Taking place from September 2019 to January 2020 in Riverside, California, the dramatic film “Four Good Days” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans and Latinos) representing the middle-class and working-class.
Culture Clash: A heroin addict and her long-estranged mother try to repair their rocky relationship when the mother allows her 31-year-old daughter to move back home with her in the daughter’s attempt to get clean and sober.
Culture Audience: “Four Good Days” will appeal primarly to people interested in watching dramas about mother-daughter relationships or the struggles of drug addicts, but the movie’s overwrought and sometimes unrealistic scenes will be a turnoff to some viewers.
The dramatic film “Four Good Days” was inspired by a true story, but the shrill melodramatics in too many badly written scenes just make the movie look like overly staged phoniness. Even though lead actresses Glenn Glose and Mia Kunis seem to be putting their best efforts forward as a mother and a daughter with a troubled relationship, “Four Good Days” is ruined by a plethora of eye-rolling, ridiculous moments, especially in the last 15 minutes of the film. Instead of “Four Good Days,” the movie is better-described as “100 Irritating Minutes.”
The beginning of “Four Good Days” (directed by Rodrigo García) sets the tone for the rest of this disappointing movie, which was written by García and Eli Saslow. The movie’s screenplay is based on Saslow’s 2016 Washington Post article “Four Good Days,” about the real-life relationship between recovering drug addict Amanda Wendler and her mother Libby Alexander. In the “Four Good Days” movie, the bickering mother and daughter are Deb (played by Close) and her daughter Margaret “Molly” Wheeler (played by Kunis).
During the opening credits, Molly is seen as a vibrant, healthy-looking person frolicking on a beach. And then, the movie, shows what Molly looks like in September 2019, when this story begins. She’s very thin and strung-out on heroin, with sores all over her face and no upper teeth. She’s disheveled and looks like the homeless person that she is.
Molly hasn’t talked to her mother Deb in years (the movie doesn’t say for how many years), but Molly has shown up unannounced at the front door of Deb’s home in suburban Riverside, California, to beg Deb for a place to stay. Deb says no and firmly tells Molly: “The deal was you wouldn’t come back until you were clean.”
Deb also tells Molly that Deb and Deb’s husband Chris (played by Stephen Root) changed the locks on their home because Molly and her junkie boyfriend Eric stole guitars and other items. Molly says that she and Eric are no longer together, but Deb remains unmoved. She shuts the door on Molly and tells her to come back when she’s clean.
After this “tough love” rejection of her daughter, Deb goes inside the house and is comforted by Chris, who tells Deb that she did the right thing and that she can’t back down from her resolve. Chris comments to Deb about Molly: “She can’t walk if you carry her.” (This movie is filled with trite platitudes that sound like slogans from a drug rehab poster.)
Molly doesn’t go away. Instead, she spends the night sleeping on Deb’s porch. And the next morning, after Molly promises that she’s ready to get clean, Deb relents and tells Molly to get in Deb’s car because Deb is driving her to rehab immediately. Molly tries to make an excuse to go in the house, by saying she hasn’t taken a shower in weeks. However, Deb refuses to let her in the house, and they drive to a detox center called Clear Horizons Recovery. The movie reveals that it’s Molly’s 15th trip to rehab in the 14 years since she became a drug addict at age 17.
During the check-in process, Molly says her main drug of choice is heroin, but she’s also recently done other drugs, such as methadone, crack cocaine, Vicodin and Adderall. Molly’s Medicaid insurance will only cover a three-day stay at Clear Horizons. After that, Molly expects to stay with Deb, but Deb still won’t fully commit to it yet. After Molly is checked into to detox center and as Deb walks away, Molly yells at Deb and calls her a derogatory name that rhymes with “witch.”
Back at home, Deb is struggling with mixed feelings. On the one hand, Deb is relieved that Molly is getting the help that she needs. On the other hand, Deb has been down this road with Molly too many other times before, and it’s always led to Molly relapsing back into drug use. Will this latest rehab stint work this time?
Deb tells Chris in a private conversation in their home how she feels about Molly: “Sometimes I get the feeling that I don’t want to love her anymore … This is the mess you married into.” Chris replies, “You always talk like that when she’s around. Stop doing it.”
Who is this dysfunctional family and how did they end up this way? Through conversations in the movie, it’s gradually revealed in layers what happened. Chris (who is retired) is the second husband of Deb, who works as a facialist in a hotel spa. When Molly was about 15 years old and a freshman in high school, Deb left her first husband Dale and their two children (Molly and Molly’s older sister Ashley) because Deb felt trapped and unhappy in an emotionally abusive marriage.
Deb lived apart from her children for about two years and let Dale take full custody. This estrangement caused a lot of bad blood between the family members. And even though Deb is shown making sincere apologies to a now drug-addicted Molly for abandoning the family, Molly still has a lot of deep-seated resentment against her mother. Meanwhile, Dale (played by Sam Hennings) has essentially cut himself off from Molly because of her constant relapses after promising to get clean.
How did Molly become a drug addict? When Molly was 17 years old, she sprained her knee while water skiing. A doctor prescribed her OxyContin. And as Deb describes it when ranting to Molly’s current rehab doctor, “no refill was denied” in this OxyContin prescription. Molly got hooked on OxyContin and then later turned to heroin. Molly also dropped out of high school because of her drug addiction.
At some point during her on-again, off-again drug use, Molly got married and had two children. But not surprisingly, the marriage didn’t last, and Molly lost custody of the children. Molly’s ex-husband Sean (played by Joshua Leonard) works in construction. Molly and Sean’s children are a son named Colton (played by Nicholas Oteri), who’s about 10 or 11 years old when this story takes place, and Chloe (played by Audrey Lynn), who is about 8 or 9 years old. Molly doesn’t see them on a regular basis, but Deb seems to keep in frequent contact with Molly’s kids, since they all live nearby.
Before Molly checks out of Clear Horizons, she and Deb have an assessment appointment with Clear Horizons physician Dr. Oritz (played by Carlos Lacamara), who has to listen to Deb berate him and blame medical professionals for prescribing OxyContin to people who end up getting addicted. Deb yells at the doctor by saying “you people” are responsible for Molly’s drug addiction. This isn’t the last that viewers will see Deb’s awful shrewishness.
Dr. Ortiz is calm and patient with Deb’s outburst (Molly is mortified) and explains that a post-rehab option for Molly is for her to take an opiate antagonist, which is a medication that supresses cravings for opiates. The doctor explains that this medication, which makes people “immune from getting high,” is an injection administered by a medical professional once a month. Dr. Ortiz also makes it clear that the medication only works on people who have no opioids and other dangerous drugs in their system. Otherwise, it could lead to serious health damage and possible death.
Molly and Deb want to get this opiate antagonist treatment right away. However, Dr. Ortiz explains that the earliest that Molly can get the treatment is in four days. Molly can no longer stay in the detox center because Molly’s insurance won’t cover it and her rehab bed has to go to someone else. And so, Deb lets Molly come home with her.
Most of the movie chronicles the four-day wait for Molly to get her first opiate antagonist treatment. And, unlike what the movie title suggests, it’s a miserable four days. Not surprisingly, Molly and Deb argue a lot, because Deb understandably has a hard time trusting Molly. Deb won’t leave any money or her car keys in places where Molly could steal them. Deb gives Molly a “burner” cell phone that she says Molly can only use to call family members or a medical professional.
Meanwhile, Molly goes through the expected heroin withdrawals, but the movie unrealistically spends just a few scenes showing Molly in agony in one day. She’s shown curled up in a fetal position, complaining about how cold she is. And there are the expected scenes of Molly vomiting. But after Molly’s first full day back in Deb’s home, Molly’s withdrawals aren’t really mentioned again, as if they were just some pesky aches and pains. It’s a very simplistic and inauthentic portrayal of heroin withdrawals.
The movie takes a more realistic approach in how Molly’s physical appearance has been ravaged by drug use. There’s a scene where Molly and Deb visit with a dentist named Dr. Stevens (played by Kim Delgado), who gives Molly a set of upper-teeth dentures to wear. Molly complains that the false teeth hurt because her inflamed gums are so sore. And speaking of sores, the makeup team of “Four Good Days” did a good job of making Molly’s face look like what can really happen to a hardcore drug addict.
Deb’s approach to having Molly live in the home is like a strict parent dealing with a child who is grounded. Molly has a suspended driver’s license because of past DUI arrests. But Deb says that even if Molly had a valid driver’s license, she wouldn’t trust Molly to drive any vehicle because of the possiblity that Molly would be tempted to drive somewhere to get drugs.
After a while, Molly becomes restless and frustrated with feeling like a prisoner in Deb’s home, so there’s more arguing between Deb and Molly. And where is Deb’s retired husband Chris during all this family drama? This movie is so sloppily written that there are long stretches where Chris is nowhere to be seen and he’s not even mentioned.
The house isn’t that big, but even if it were, Chris’ presence is almost like an afterthought in the movie. He vaguely seems to support Deb’s decision to let Molly stay in the house, as long as Molly stays clean, but he’s not in the movie enough to make a real impact. However, Root and Close have one pretty good scene together where Deb is ranting and yelling at Chris to say something and she calls him a “fucking wimp.” Chris explodes and gives bullying Deb the verbal smackdown that she deserves, by yelling back at her, “I’m not your punching bag!”
“Four Good Days” should be commended for not sugarcoating the reality that families who deal with drug addiction often have at least one enabler/co-dependent who hurts more than helps the addict. Deb has all the characteristics of being a toxic enabler/co-dependent. Deb thinks she means well, but she often makes things worse. A perfect example of her toxic enabling/co-dependency is a very irresponsible decison that Deb makes in the last 15 minutes of the film. It’s a decision that will make viewers really dislike this movie.
“Four Good Days” goes a little too overboard in showing Deb vaccillating between wanting to distrust Molly and wanting to coddle Molly. In one of the worst scenes in “Four Good Days,” Deb goes to a diner to have breakfast with her older daughter Ashley (played by Carla Gallo), who is estranged from Molly. Molly was supposed to be at this breakfast meeting too, but she backed out at the last minute. Ashley doesn’t seem too surprised.
Deb and Ashley start off having a good mother-daughter talk. Deb tells Ashley how Molly is doing. Ashley, who is an attorney and a single mother, gives Deb updates on what’s been going on in her life, including Ashley’s new relationship with a boyfriend. There’s a little bit of tension when Ashley comments that Deb is obsessed with Molly and Molly’s problems. Deb essentially admits it’s true.
Things take a turn in the conversation when Deb notices that she left her wallet at home. Deb wants to go back and get the wallet because she doesn’t want Molly to be alone in the house with any cash that’s easy to find. Ashley insists that she will pay for their meal and she orders Deb not to go back to the house. It’s Ashley’s way of telling her mother not to let Molly’s addiction take over Deb’s life.
Ashley continues to talk happily about her new boyfriend, but Deb has an expression on her face that she’s tuned out of what Ashley is saying. Ashley can tell that her mother is thinking about Molly possibly finding Deb’s wallet at home. And then, Deb suddenly gets up and leaves Ashley at the table without even saying goodbye. Horrible. Ashley is not seen or mentioned in the movie again.
Molly gets restless from being cooped up in the house, so Deb invites Molly to go grocery shopping with her. At the grocery store, they run into a former high school classmate of Molly’s named Coach Miller (played by Rebecca Field), who now teaches a health and fitness class at a local high school. Molly’s drug problems are apparently very well-known in the community, because Coach Miller tells Molly that people are rooting for her in her recovery.
Coach Miller says that Molly could be an inspiration/deterrent to the kids in Coach Miller’s class. She invites Molly to be a guest speaker in the class, to talk about the dangers of drug addiction. Molly politely declines because she says she’s not good at public speaking. The problem with this invitation is that Coach Miller doesn’t know if Molly (who is fresh out of rehab) is really the best person to lecture anyone about what it takes to have long-term sobriety.
But then later in the movie, Molly is later shown giving a tear-filled speech in front of Coach Miller’s students, while Deb is standing near the back of the class. Molly is both self-righteous and apologetic in her speech. Molly berates a smug student (played by Gabriela Flores), who says that she would never become a drug addict. And to throw in some more melodrama, Molly pulls out the dentures in her mouth so that the students can see Molly’s diseased, toothless gums. And then, Molly wails and sobs toward the end of the speech, as she tells Deb how sorry she is about the pain she caused.
During the car drive from the school, Deb tells Molly how proud she is of her. And then, Molly uses that moment to tell her mother that she wants to help other drug addicts in their recoveries. And by the way, Molly says, she wants to check in on a 15-year-old girl druggie friend named Sammy, because Molly is worrried about Sammy. And so, Molly begs her mother to drive to a drug-infested area to help Molly look for Sammy.
At first, Deb is dead-set against the idea. But she’s worn down by Molly’s pleading and drives to the area and tells Molly that she has five minutes to ask around for Sammy. This eventually leads to another ridiculous scene where Deb and Molly end up in a drug house, where Deb aggressively confronts a large man on drugs who could have a weapon on him. But Deb doesn’t think about these things when she loses her temper, which she does a lot in this movie.
“Four Good Days” isn’t all about Deb and Molly’s hostile conflicts with each other. They have some occasions where they try to repair their damaged relationship. In one scene, mother and daughter have a tender moment together when Deb gives Molly a much-needed facial treatment. And in another scene, Molly’s ex-husband Sean brings Colton and Chloe over to the house to visit. It’s a glimpse of how this fractured family could be if they can heal in the right ways.
But those moments of tranquil harmony are overshadowed by angry turmoil. After a while, it’s very obvious that Molly isn’t the only addict in the family. Her mother Deb is addicted to chaos. And she’s in deep denial over it, which makes her even more insufferable to watch.
Close’s immense talent as an actress is hampered by how the character of Deb veers into asburdity and self-delusion. Deb is intended to be a complicated, flawed person, but some of the decisions that Deb makes and how she handles situations actually make Deb more into a bad stereotype of a domineering, ill-tempered matriarch. “Four Good Days” director García and Close previously worked together on the drama “Albert Nobbs,” which earned Close an Oscar nominaton for playing the movie’s cross-dressing title character. “Four Good Days” is far from an Oscar-caliber film.
Kunis’ depiction of a flaky drug addict has moments of realism, especially in the first half of the movie, but there are other times when Kunis is over-acting. It’s almost as if she’s thinking that her portrayal of drug addiction in this movie will possibly get her nominated for major awards. It won’t. The rest of the movie’s cast members are serviceable in their very sparsely written roles.
One of the best scenes in the film isn’t with Deb and Molly. It’s a scene when Deb angrily confronts her ex-husband Dale (played by Sam Hemmings) and tries to shame him for not being in contact with Molly in the days since Deb told Dale that Molly was spendng time recovering in Deb’s home. In this scene, the pent-up resentment that these two ex-spouses have had for each other over the years comes out like a bomb exploding. Deb and Dale each blame each other in some way for Molly’s addiction, when in reality Molly is the only one who can and should take responsibility for her life.
One of the worst things about “Four Good Days” is that it starts off fooling viewers into thinking that it will be a realistic story of how drug addiction can damage relationships. And although some scenes crackle with intensity, the movie takes a very Hollywood approach to how these real-life issues are handled. The character of Deb gets angry with screwed-up daughter Molly for dragging Deb down with Molly’s problems. However, Molly and Deb are such grating, self-pitying characters that this whole movie is dragged down by their annoying antics.
Vertical Entertainment released “Four Good Days” in select U.S. cinemas on April 30, 2021.