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5 Screenwriting Takeaways: ‘Four Good Days’ takes a hard look at addiction

May 7, 2021
4 min read time

Four Good Days is a brutal film that addresses the heroin epidemic head-on as Molly (Mila Kunis) struggles to stay clean for four days so she can take naltrexone, a monthly injection that makes it impossible to get high. Her only option to stay clean is with the help of her mother, Deb (Glenn Close). It’s not easy; Deb has a decade's worth of mistrust and skepticism of her daughter bottled inside her and Molly is surrounded by countless triggers pressing her to chase the high she craves.

Written and directed by Rodrigo García, Four Good Days is based on a Washington Post article from July 23, 2016 called "'How’s Amanda?': A story of truth, lies and an American addiction." It reflects a time in America when, the article says, 350 people were starting on heroin daily, according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Another 4,105 were making emergency-room visits and another 79 were winding up dead.

Here are five screenwriting takeaways from the heartbreaking drama Four Good Days:

1. "Based on a true story"

Kunis plays Molly, but the story is based on Amanda. This would be an immediate tip off that there is some creative license that takes place in the translation from article to screenplay. While retaining these rights is a different matter altogether, what a screenwriter must know about adaptions is that there will always be some fictionalizing of the events.

Oftentimes, writers who research real stories want to remain truthful to it. That’s impossible, if not because there are multiple perspectives to the story (making the truth harder to ascertain), but rather it’s difficult to piece together a narrative that is accurate and not boring. While we want to share all this great knowledge we’ve accumulated, that must be left to the articles, books and source materials  we’re here to make a movie  and that will require creative license.

2. Building context

Close and Kunis take real-life people and create impressively deep characters. What García was able to accomplish was writing two characters filled with conflict and constantly butting heads. The warped relationship between these two go deep so the context must be both in the words they throw at each other and the silence that lingers between them in the story.

I can’t recall a time that Deb says to her daughter that she blatantly does not trust her. This feeling is reflected in the words so much that the viewer struggles to know when Molly may or may not be truthful. This feeling of distrust comes from a long history that others around addicts may relate to and one piece of the backstory that García was able to create.

Screenwriters can take away both the notion of context and putting the lead character’s feelings of other characters into the viewers' minds.

3. Creating the mother-daughter relationship

Deb wants the best for her daughter. Molly wants her mother’s help. While this makes for an ideal situation to overcome a serious addiction, the scenario is anything but.

This relationship is hostile. And while Deb truly loves her daughter and wants to help her, she has been through this same situation time and time again and must cope with the tension of having her daughter back in her home in this final attempt to break her of her addiction. Unfortunately, this home life is a constant trigger for Molly, who is given every reason to run back to the lifestyle she is trying to leave behind.

Screenwriters have an amazing opportunity to see consistent conflict on display. When going easy on your characters seems preferable for fear that the audience won’t relate to or like them, this proves that complex characters and their relationships with each other drives conflict, interest and investment in the story.

4. A glimpse into the world we don't know

Four Good Days is not the only film to show behind the scenes of the heroin epidemic. It’s not even the first one to show it from a mother’s perspective. What this film does show is a unique perspective on how coming clean impacts an already fragile relationship and how hard it is to stay sober for four days amid constant triggers. For those skeptical on what it takes to beat addiction, this movie proves it’s not as easy as saying “I want to quit.” In fact, one scene addresses that subject head-on.

What the screenwriter can take away from this concept is finding the new story on a subject that has been covered extensively. Anything from a time frame in the character’s life to a character’s perspective can create a new way to tell a story. Examples of changing the perspectives include My Week with Marilyn a snapshot of the life of Marilyn Monroe from an employee of Laurence Olivier; or Fury, a World War II film from the perspective of a tank’s crew.

5. Glimmers of hope, glimmers of doom

The ride characters take goes from hope to despair. The same holds true for the mother and daughter in this movie. Four Good Days keeps the audience guessing because at any moment, we can see Molly relapsing from any number of triggers, and we can also see Deb helping her daughter or abandoning her.

We really don’t know what will set either off. The screenwriter can observe how these glimmers provide the audience with both hope and dread. An example from the film is when Molly gets to see her kids for the first time  which is hopeful — only to find out later that her ex-husband asked Molly for something considered a trigger, showing that there is no normal, easy life to return to.

People seek out movies like they search for rollercoasters so it’s important to find the thrilling moments that keep viewers excited and invested in the ride.

Four Good Days is currently in theaters.

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