All I have left is hope.
There’s a moment late in Rodrigo García‘s Four Good Days where Deb (Glenn Close) pounds on her ex-husband’s door to unleash the pent-up rage building within thanks to what appears to be yet another false start on their daughter Molly’s (Mila Kunis) road to recovery from an almost two decades-long battle with opioid addiction. She chastises his ambivalence (justified considering this is the fifteenth time Molly has attempted to detox) by screaming, “We’re doing the work!” But he’s having none of it. He screams back that Molly’s doing the work—not Deb—and even that’s not assured. Molly is the one struggling physically, emotionally, and psychologically to kick this thing. It’s reductive to say Deb isn’t experiencing her own struggles, but the stakes cannot be compared.
Yet that’s exactly what García and Eli Saslow‘s script does. By refusing to choose between the perspective of the addict or the family, they decide to supply each equal footing to thus prove that equal footing doesn’t exist. Beautiful Boy fell prey to the same mistake a couple years ago too. I’m not saying both sides aren’t compelling on their own, they just can’t co-exist to the extent that these recent films seem to believe they can. Why? Because it forces the storyteller into a corner where only bad choices remain at his/her disposal. Because when Deb is told she’s not doing any of the heavy lifting, it forces her to go against the character that’s been presented to us and act out of sanctimony rather than reason.
I don’t want to spoil what that act is since it’s the film’s climactic moment. I’ll just say that it does give Deb stakes, but only for about five minutes before they are rendered obsolete with an epilogue so rushed and manipulative that it ruined everything good about what García had provided during the first 90-minutes. Because while Four Good Days is imperfect at best, it possessed a real authenticity of character up until that point. It allowed both Deb and Molly to be real people with a prolonged and debilitating history that guarantees fits of rage when old patterns begin to take over again. Their relationship consists of the type of volatility that probably should expose the fact that their road will never have a happy ending.
Unless, of course, García and company want it to have one. Because that is their choice—even if this drama is inspired by a real-life mother and daughter (as an end credit photo proclaims) providing evidence that one is possible. Because even if their happy ending is depicted without a single deviation on-screen, it’s still the filmmaker’s job to render it impactful rather than cliché. Don’t leave things to the last second in a way that glorifies recklessness. Don’t make it seem as though Deb’s tough love of making Molly fend for herself until she’s clean was wrong and risking her life today was right because you would rather tie things up in a sentimentality-dripping bow than spend time bolstering that contrast with context. It feels cheap otherwise.
That’s what audiences can’t forgive. We can look beyond the utilization of every addiction trope in the book as long as the conclusion feels honest and this one has them all. Estranged father? Check. Complex past wherein both Deb and Molly have reason to blame the former for the latter’s troubles no matter how superficial? Check. Lost custody of children? Check. Their father having the nerve to ask their addict mother if she can score painkillers? Check. Add a compassionate rock (Stephen Root) for Deb that she can use as a punching bag (his words, not mine) and the potentially heartwarming and cathartic avenue towards using Molly’s trauma to “scare kids straight” and Four Good Days becomes a kitchen sink compendium of an over-saturated and over-used cinematic genre.
And yet I was still with it until the end because Kunis and Close are too good not to be compelled by their performances. The way Kunis’ Molly uses her real feelings to manipulate those around her is just as effective as the way Close’s Deb refuses to let herself be manipulated again. They are stuck in a no-man’s-land as a result since Molly’s tricks aren’t working as successfully as they used to this time around while Deb’s resolve amplifies a rage that’s just blinding enough to be circumvented. So they fight and fight and fight. They bring up the past to hurt each other and they tearfully admit their failings just the same. It’s a believably three-dimensional dynamic that hurts because of the love that won’t die.
Just because that love allows for their climactic decision, however, doesn’t mean that decision won’t derail their love in ways that reveal it’s been deflection for a narrative resolution too thin to support its heft. Would the alternative have been flawless? No. But at least it would have been tonally in line with the message presented by the rest. We instead receive a conclusion that epitomizes the theory that “two wrongs do make a right” with zero regard to how reckless those sentiments are to this precarious situation. To then have dialogue that calls said recklessness “brave” only made me angrier. The film ended up solidifying the worst aspects of its characterizations (blaming Deb) as true until she “stepped up” and “repented” in toxically dangerous fashion.
courtesy of Vertical Entertainment