Four Good Days: Just Look at Her, by David Bax
Despite the ups and downs of success and critical reception throughout his career, there remains something stubbornly auteuristic about Rodrigo Garcia. It’s not just that he returns again and again to female-centric, upper middle class domestic melodramas, though that’s certainly part of the argument. There’s also the way his movies look. His narrow, off-white and pale blue color palette is not that different from countless other dramas for people with bourgeois Good Taste (actually, given that he’s been directing episodes of HBO series since the early 2000s, he may in fact be somewhat responsible for the prevalence of that look). Yet there’s something specific about the cold sunlight of Garcia’s films, bright enough to let you see his characters clearly but not warm enough to lend them any more of a glow than they’ve earned.
In his latest, Four Good Days, the women on whom Garcia casts his beam are remarried suburban casino worker Deb (Glenn Close) and her troubled adult daughter Molly (Mila Kunis). Molly, now in her early thirties, has been a heroin addict since she was a teenager, has spent time in and out of her mother’s life and has caused a shell of sorts to harden around Deb, at least when it comes to her eldest child. Now Molly’s back, vowing once again to get sober. This time, though, she qualifies for a new treatment. The hitch is that she can’t start it until all the drugs are out of her system, which means she’s Deb’s responsibility again for four days, the longest stretch in years.
When a haggard Molly first shows up at Deb’s door, hair unwashed and gums inflamed, I’ll admit to having rolled my eyes. It’s not that I’m dismissive of the terrible disease that is addiction, it’s just that movies about addicts tend to play the same desperate notes over and over again. But Garcia–who co-wrote the screenplay with journalist Eli Saslow–avoids the cycle-of-addiction tropes by setting his story in the calm at the center of the storm, the time between the last high and the potential next one that will never not loom on the horizon for Molly’s family, no matter how long the calm lasts. Four Good Days is less about what it’s like to be an addict than it is about the impossible desire to love and forgive one.
It helps that Garcia loves Molly as much as Deb does and loves Deb as much as the person Molly wants to be does. Patience and acceptance are hallmarks of his films; as such, Four Good Days contains no big emotional breakthroughs for mother and daughter. Instead, we watch the ice get chipped away cautiously with jokes about phone calls from dealers and the like.
Four Good Days seems understandably distraught about what Molly has made of her life but it spends little time being critical of her. On the contrary, the film seems far more eager to put the screws to Deb, revealing the occasional bit of pettiness, a lack of respect in the way she sometimes treats loved ones who haven’t broken her heart over and over again, like her husband (Stephen Root) or her other daughter (Carla Gallo). In one supremely uncomfortable scene, we watch Deb, unable to help herself, ruin a truly good moment with Molly by picking at a subconscious scab, asking a question neither she nor we actually require an answer to.
In moments like this, we realize that the true tragedy in Four Good Days is not the waste of Molly’s life so far. It’s that, no matter how much these two women love each other, they’ll never be able to do so without reservation as they may have so many years ago.