Because stars Abbi Jacobson and Dave Franco usual work in comedy, you may expect “6 Balloons” to cause some laughs — however, no one is laughing at this serious depiction of heroin addiction.
With “6 Balloons,” writer and director Marja-Lewis Ryan delivers a film that truly works when it’s slowed down, leaving room to breath in the details. Although brilliant and beautiful, these slow moments soak up all the substance that could’ve been used to make a longer film.
The film begins with Katie (Abbi Jacobson) planning and setting up a surprise party with friends and family for her boyfriend. As a control freak, she stresses over making the perfect celebration, and when her father forgets to pick up her brother Seth (Dave Franco), it makes matters worse. Naturally, she drives to his place and discovers Seth, a heroin addict, has relapsed. Seth’s daughter Ella (Charlotte and Medeline Carel) and Katie journey together in an attempt to help Seth find treatment at another detox center.
The rug quickly pulls itself from underneath the audience after a warm-hearted first act, plunging us into a nightmarish series of events. Suddenly twisting the audience to a different angle cuts unnecessary build up. Close attention to cinematography, body language from the actors and sheer commitment to the roles embellishes the films dark tone, making it a drama to stand out from other addiction films like it.
The inclusion of his daughter adds a special unnerving element to the story, contrasting the two lives he leads as addict and father that chaotically crash together. A scene where Seth gets his fix in a bathroom stall while Katie changes his daughter’s diaper in the same room is hard to watch. She wails and screams when he’s in pain and laughs joyfully when he’s happy — all the while innocently unaware the two situations are completely dependent on his addiction.
The film’s most compelling element is Jacobson and Franco’s strong chemistry. The natural flow between loving concern and bitter distaste makes for a believable sibling relationship, exaggerated by their situation. Franco performs with an achingly real self-loathing — every word and nuance of his character feels real and heartbreaking. Jacobson mirrors Franco’s genuine performance with one just as impactful. Her desperation, coupled with her love and concern for her brother, portrays a believable account of what it’s like to be a relative of a failing heroin addict.
Running at a brief 71 minutes, the film often oddly feels like a SparkNotes summary instead of a fleshed-out experience. Poor film editing makes scenes clipped and choppy. Not only that, but the film feels too rigid in its display, holding back a lot of potential that could have simply been fixed with a longer run time. It feels rushed, like when you wake up late for a meeting and have to scarf down your breakfast before you rush out into traffic. There isn’t a ton of room to sit down and fully enjoy it — nevertheless, this compact indie drama delivers something real and genuine, serving as a sharp reminder of the tragic reality of addiction.