How do we end up enabling the bad behaviors of the people we love the most? This is the central question behind 6 Balloons—a new Netflix original movie, starring Dave Franco and Abbi Jacobson (of Broad City), that explores the devastating effects that one man’s heroin addiction has on his sister.
6 Balloons follows one day in the life of Katie (played by Jacobson). She is spending her day trying to prepare a surprise party for her boyfriend. She picks up her mother, she goes to CVS, she hangs banners, and gossips with her friends in the kitchen, but her preparations are interrupted when she goes to pick up her brother, Seth (Franco), and his infant daughter Ella. She realizes that Seth has relapsed into heroin usage, and immediately drives him to a detox facility. For a number of personal and financial reasons, though, they are unable to check him in, and Katie spends the rest of the night trying to figure out how to keep her brother clean and safe—and finds that she can’t do both.
It is Jacobson that carries the weight of the film on her shoulders. She is able to make the transition from comedy to gritty indie drama more readily than Dave Franco, who delivers a competent performance but can’t completely commit to not being, well, Dave Franco. While not portraying the addict, Jacobson’s Katie is the true focus and emotional center of film. If you have only ever seen her play the irreverent and messy Abbi Abrams on Broad City, the impact of her transformation into a tightly wound thirty–something–year–old with her life in perfect order will be much greater. Katie is a confident control freak who will re–roll her friend’s pigs in a blanket if they’re not tight enough, and who ends up emotionally destroyed by her inability to either save her junkie brother or to let him go.
There are many places where the minimalist script and storyline leave things out—for instance, we never learn how Seth started using heroin, or how his family found out. It again falls to Jacobson and her fellow actors to carry the emotional weight of the story. In this regard, Jacobson’s experience in comedy serves her well in a dramatic setting—she makes everyone that she performs with better. The decision to make Seth a single father is never explained in the script and could have easily felt like a cheap ploy for sympathy—but Jacobson shows a tenderness in scenes with Ella that makes the choice work. Likewise, Jacobson lends a feeling of authenticity to her conversations with Franco—floating seamlessly from joking to fighting and back again—that anyone with a brother or sister will recognize.
Some of the narrative techniques that 6 Balloons uses work better than others. The competing narration of a GPS pointing the way to a detox center (for Seth), and a self help audiobook that heavily leans on a trite and underdeveloped metaphor for drowning (for Katie), are annoying to the point of detracting from the story. However, other juxtapositions work brilliantly—an overhead shot where Katie changes Ella’s diaper while Seth injects in the bathroom stall next to them is impossible to look away from. At 1 hour and 15 minutes, 6 Balloons is too short and sparse to delve in deeply with its material and make any larger commentary on the opioid crisis in the United States: a scene where the white Jacobson walks through an alley to buy for her brother, in which she is the only wealthy, white person, is striking but goes unremarked upon. However, in the time that it has, 6 Balloons delivers a tight, emotional story of the destructive powers of addiction and the ways in which love can—and can’t—save us.