Four Good Days: Rodrigo Garcia and Jon Avnet on their stunning new film

Four Good Days. Image courtesy Vertical Entertainment
Four Good Days. Image courtesy Vertical Entertainment /

Four Good Days showcases addiction and parental relationships at their most raw, and it’s a film most people won’t soon forget.

It hails from acclaimed filmmakers Rodrigo Garcia (who directed and produced the film, while co-writing the screenplay with Eli Saslow) and Jon Avnet (who served as an executive producer). The two of them recently joined Hidden Remote to discuss the film, which is based on Saslow’s article for the Washington Post about a real-life mother and daughter challenged by the daughter’s drug addiction.

What interested them about Libby Alexander and Amanda Wendler’s true story? How did they get it onto the screen with Glenn Close and Mila Kunis? And what are they hoping audiences take away? Learn more as the film is now available in limited movie theaters and will premiere on demand May 21.

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Hidden Remote: What was it about Eli Saslow’s story that captivated you and motivated you to turn it into a film?

Rodrigo Garcia: The two women and their relationship. The article was very well written, and Eli did a great job of describing not just the horror—the pitfalls of having to live in this situation where a family member is struggling with so many years with addiction—but beyond that, the two women were very specific in their relationship. There was just a lot of history in everything they did. Everything they did had a 30-year history behind it. It wasn’t so much the addiction; the addiction was the pressure cooker, the four days locked up trying to stay clean, but it was really the history of the ties that bind a mother and a daughter.

Jon Avnet: Eli Saslow, first of all, is a really great writer. The way he captures the world and the specificity of the event really got me, and it just struck me as unique because of one particular element. It was a mother-daughter relationship. The mother-daughter relationship exploring addiction was something I just hadn’t seen.

I’ve done two movies with addiction elements—When a Man Loves a Woman with Meg Ryan and Andy Garcia a number of years back, and before that I did Less Than Zero, where Robert Downey Jr. gave quite a performance as an addict. It’s not a world that I’m unfamiliar with. It would take a lot for me to come and want to work on something in this area again, but that relationship really intrigued me.

When we got the script from Eli and Rodrigo I knew I wanted to go to Glenn [Close], because I had introduced Rodrigo to Glenn for his first movie that he directed…Rodrigo then went on to make a number of films with Glenn. I just thought Glenn would be amazing in this role. And the combination [of Glenn and Mila Kunis], I went this could be fun, and we could maybe do something really, really good, and that’s what intrigued me and that’s what set me in motion.

HR: You had Eli as a co-writer, and cooperation from Libby and Amanda in making Four Good Days as well. From a production standpoint, how valuable is all that collaboration with the real people involved?

JA: In a story like this, and in the environment that we now live in, being as accurate as possible is very, very important. We changed the names of the characters, and we did that because every event wasn’t exactly as it happened, because no one was there at every event. Things were left out, choices were made, but in fact because of Eli, because of the cooperation of Amanda and Libby, and because of Rodrigo’s own pace, it’s really accurate.

All the big events actually happened, particularly the very powerful one where Mila asks Glenn for her teeth, which to me, is a wow request. It asks the question how far will a mother go for her daughter? And I think most people believe to death. It’s just one of the strongest urges, instincts and most powerful and primary relationships in the world. I think exploring that in a very accurate manner would create a harrowing and very impactful [movie], and I think it did.

HR: How do you start unpacking all the information that you have to turn it into Four Good Days as we see it?

RG: First I showed [the article] to Jon and to Jake [Avnet], my partners, and they agreed that it could make a movie. We spoke to Eli; he was the same. We just suggested to him that we could write the script together, given that he has so much knowledge of the situation, and the opioid epidemic, and the people it involves, and I could bring my own inserts…Libby and Amanda took us on a sobering tour of some of the places that Amanda had lived in her darkest periods. Where she bought drugs, and did drugs, or where she lived in a condemned building.

We really wanted to stay close to what the article talks about. I didn’t want to go back and explain how she became addicted, or how things start. I thought we could see if the article did, because it hits the ground running. People know the broad strokes of what it’s like to be in a family suffering from a relative who’s struggling with addiction. I thought that the article started beautifully, because it’s 11 years later. She’s already doing very badly, and she’s come home, and wants to stay.

HR: Are there parts of Four Good Days that stood out to you during the making of the film?

JA: The opening of the movie. What would it take for a mother to not let her daughter in her own house? Just that notion; that just got me. And then once you ask that question, what’s the answer?

RG: I know what I found interesting, and it’s the dynamic between the two of them. Those scenes where they’re discussing what happened, who’s responsible for what in the past, and who’s responsible for what now, and who’s to blame for things…My favorite part of the movie are those moments. There’s quite a few scenes where it’s the two women trying to unravel each other.

HR: The two of you have worked together for a while now. What is it about this partnership that works so well for you?

JA: First of all, Rodrigo, he’s a stellar person, really remarkable person. I would attribute the success of our working relationship [to] just the quality of his character. He also, as a writer, he’s so observant. The first time I read his first script, Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her, it was a cover page, and I thought it was written by a woman. Then when I met Rodrigo, I went, “Well, he’s not a woman.” But he just captured so many things, he’s interested in so many things. And I like stories with female protagonists, the movies that I do, and there’s been a number like that. There was a nexus right there, but he does it differently than I do. In many ways, I like the way he does it better than the way I do it.

His writing makes me want to produce, and I don’t want to produce that much, because unless I really like a movie, it’s a lot of work in support of another director. I’d rather direct something on my own. Rodrigo, I’m happy to produce, because it’s fun. Like in WIGS, that opening scene, where Julia’s trying to go about her business, and she gets interrupted by a phone call, and the phone calls from her son. And then where it goes from there, what brilliant writing. I would put that up against the writing in most anything. Sometimes, things are more fashionable or less fashionable, depending on fads and awards, and so on, and so forth.

Rodrigo has bad asthma, and he got an asthma attack when we were shooting, because we had cleaned this house out, but it had cat hair in it. He had to go to the hospital. He said to me, would I direct while he was in the hospital? And I went, “Okay.” After he started getting better, but he’s still in the hospital, I’d have him on the phone with me and [cinematographer] Igor [Jadue-Lillo], we’d go over the camera set-up. If he wanted to talk to the actors…and then he fell asleep. I was stuck out there directing his movie, and he’s asleep in the hospital, which I thought was kind of funny.

We have a very open relationship, and it’s very satisfying. I’m not Rodrigo’s only producer; he works with another group of producers frequently, and they’re great. But we do have a company with Rodrigo, my son Jake and I, so we spend a lot of time together and have done a lot of things, and we have some more things coming. It’s been really fun, pleasurable, and productive.

HR: Four Good Days is a movie centered on a very difficult and timely subject. Is there anything you want the audience to leave the film with?

RG: People don’t want to give up their hope that things will get better. Hope sometimes can be, it’s extremely necessary. It’s one of the things that helps everyone get up in the morning. But sometimes hope can take you down long and troublesome roads. So I guess that idea of hope, and how you deal with hope.

When you are the parent of a child who is struggling with addiction issues, often you are faced with a choice—to help your child and therefore become a codependent, or to abandon your child, which is certainly something that is daunting.

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Four Good Days is in select theaters now and will be available on demand starting May 21.