When we say an actor is giving a performance that’s “vanity-free,” it usually means they’re griming up and letting their hair down, and there’s actually a fair amount of vanity involved. One nice thing about Mila Kunis’s portrayal of a heroin addict in Rodrigo García’s “Four Good Days” is that the vanity’s up front, in the character and in the star’s nervy embrace of a woman who has become human wreckage.
It’s a cold-turkey movie, parent and child division, like the recent “Beautiful Boy” and “Ben Is Back.” “Four Good Days” opens with a knock on the door of Deb (Glenn Close), a Los Angeles massage therapist, and on the other side is Molly (Kunis), the daughter who has been lost to junk for over a decade. The movie picks up well past the point where Deb is naïve enough to let the girl in; she’s heard enough lies, lent enough money, had enough jewelry stolen. But Molly insists she really intends to get clean this time, and a monthly “opioid antagonist” shot will give her the chemical breathing space to do so. The doctor says she has four days to get the poison out of her system first. Reluctantly, Deb opens her door.
There’s an understanding second husband played by Steven Root off in another wing of the house — the script gives him one late scene in which to pop his cork — but the bulk of “Four Good Days” is the dance between mother and daughter and the question of whether trust can ever grow in a field that has been scraped down to bedrock. Deb’s an interesting part for Close and maybe not the best fit; the actress thrives on roles where a secret, obsessive motor pushes the character forward — “The Wife” and García’s “Albert Nobbs” are just two recent examples — and when she plays “regular” people, as here and in “Hillbilly Elegy,” there’s an actorly fussiness to the immersion. She gives an earnest performance but not a particularly memorable one.
Kunis fares better, if only because it’s a showier kind of role. Molly is a wraith when we first meet her, hair a ratty black/blonde/green, her hand held over her mouth in embarrassment over the loss of her teeth. The character has not one motor but two, pulling in opposite directions — the aching desire to get clean and the need for the next fix — and Kunis conveys the layers of self-destructive emotions Molly has built up to deal with that: fury, self-loathing, self-pity, and a pitiless clarity about how close she is to the grave. Like “Ben Is Back” (2018), the best of the recent entries in this genre, “Four Good Days” is brutally honest about the addict’s gift for deception — the way every interaction is structured around getting to the next high — and the actress gives us both the itch and the desperate refusal to scratch it.
García has made good films (“Nine Lives,” 2005) and mediocre ones (“Passengers,” 2008); at his best, he has a lyrical touch that builds a halo around his lead actresses. The dutifully shot “Four Good Days” lacks the poetry of his earlier films and it tests audience sympathy with a late-inning development that forces Deb into a potentially dangerous decision. If you’re hanging on by then, it’s due to respect for the performers and the seriousness with which they address a plague that scourges this country and that our entertainments scrupulously look away from. “Four Good Days” could be a better movie, but I’m not sure that matters.
FOUR GOOD DAYS
Directed by Rodrigo Garcia. Written by Rodrigo Garcia and Eli Saslow. Starring Glenn Close, Mila Kunis. At Boston Common, Kendall Square, suburbs. 100 minutes. R (drug content, language throughout, and brief sexuality)