Apr 26

“6 Balloons”: Sisterly Love, Enabling and/or Not

Take one best friend’s real-life family story, add burgeoning awareness of a real-life national opioid epidemic surrounding it, and inspiration is born. The result? A film new to Netflix called 6 Balloons, written and directed by Marja-Lewis Ryan. The friend? Producer Samantha Housman.

Not many addiction-related films focus on the enabler and/or the rescuer. In 6 Balloons a sister (Abbi Jacobson as Katie) has to wrestle with such a role in relation to her brother (Dave Franco as Seth) when he has a heroin relapse.

What ensues, in the midst of a birthday-party-to-be hosted by Katie, is that she decides to get Seth “fixed” ASAP. The fact that she leaves the party before her honoree/boyfriend (Dawan Owens) even gets there provides another kind of tension.

In the course of one day (the film is just over 70 minutes) she drives Seth around Los Angeles—his two-year-old daughter, Ella, in the back seat—seeking a detox center that will take him.

More details from Joe Leydon, Variety:

Stops along the way include a frustrating visit to a clinic that won’t accept Seth’s insurance; a paranoia-ratcheting side trip to an inner-city marketplace for unprescribed medications; and a near-closing-time interlude in the bathroom of a drug store, a sequence both darkly comical and grippingly suspenseful as Seth and Ella simultaneously require attention while a disapproving pharmacist (Heidi Sulzman, making every second count in a fleeting role) hovers nearby.

That’s the gist of it. “What the story really feels like it’s about, though, is the endless, disorienting dance between addicts and the people who love them,” states Leah Greenblatt, ew.com.

Brian Tallerico, Rogerebert.com, has praise for how this is handled:

It is incredibly difficult to love an addict. Not only does their addiction continuously define the dynamic of your relationship, but they are like a drowning man, able to take you down with them as they flail their arms and fight for air. Rarely has a film captured this better than Marja-Lewis Ryan’s “6 Balloons”…It features a pair of young actors who are mostly known for comedy in a heartfelt, scary drama about what addiction does to the people around the addict.

Especially, in this case, the addict’s sister. Although Seth’s parents “have grown immune to his dubious charms…he knows (or, to be more precise, hopes) that his sister remains an endless source of sympathy.”

It’s not as though she isn’t trying to detach. “[Katie] wants to ‘let go with love,’ as she’s encouraged by the self-help audiotape she plays in her car throughout the movie. (That may sound like a heavy-handed touch, but be patient: It builds to something powerful.) She wants to stop being Seth’s enabler. She wants to save herself” (Variety).

In Conclusion…

Jon Frosch, Hollywood Reporter: “…(W)hat 6 Balloons captures, with a kind of gloomy integrity, is the sheer exhaustion of being the closest person to an addict — the draining cycles of anger, guilt and heartbreak, as well as the isolation.”

(Hard to watch, heartbreaking, tense are, indeed, common descriptors in the various reviews of 6 Balloons. But many critics feel it’s “worth the ride.”)

Benjamin Lee, The Guardian: “What’s unusual yet important…is that here is a portrait of a middle-class heroin addict, surrounded by people who love and support him, at odds with the many portrayals we’ve grown accustomed to, abandoned, penniless and alone. It’s not a film about easy solutions and we’re under no illusions that what we see in the short running time is just a brief chapter in what may or may not be the start of a long road to recovery.”

The Trailer:

Apr 20

“Little Miss Sunshine”: The Pleasure of Their Dysfunction

In my opinion, perhaps the most loveable dysfunctional family ever on film is that of Little Miss Sunshine (2006).

Sheryl Hoover (Toni Collette), a harried chain-smoking mom, invites her suicidal intellectual gay brother Frank (Steve Carell) to stay with her and her family. Her husband Richard (Greg Kinnear) is a wannabe self-help guru—who’s unsuccessful himself. Son Dwayne (Paul Dano) currently isn’t speaking. Grandpop Edwin (Alan Arkin) is addicted to heroin and was ousted from his elder care facility.

And that leaves seven-year-old chubby and bubbly Olive (Abigail Breslin), who just wants to win a beauty pageant—and isn’t really cut out for such things.

One could argue that all of the family members in Little Miss Sunshine should be in therapy—separately, together, whatever—but of course they aren’t. Instead, they’re all taking a road trip—in support of Olive’s dream.

Below, the trailer:

Selected Reviews

James Berardinelli, ReelViews: “It takes a deft hand to fashion a feel-good movie with plenty of laughs and an upbeat ending out of a story that includes drug addiction, a suicide attempt, a death, Nietzsche, and Proust.”

Dana Stevens, Slate: “If anything, the recent film it most recalls is You Can Count on Me (2000), another small treasure about a fractured family that managed to be moving without troweling on the sap. Little Miss Sunshine has some elements of farce, including extended sequences of physical comedy and an unlikely, exuberant finale. But it takes its characters very seriously indeed, and affords them a measure of dignity even at their most ridiculous.”

Joe Morgenstern, Wall Street Journal: “…a dysfunctional-family comedy with a crucial difference — the function progresses, hilariously, from dys to full and loving.”

Manohla Dargis, New York Times: “This bittersweet comedy of dysfunction takes place at the terminus of the American dream, where families are one bad break away from bankruptcy.”

David Rooney, Variety: “A quietly antic dysfunctional family road trip comedy that shoots down the all-American culture of the winner and offers sweet redemption for losers — or at least the ordinary folks often branded as such.”

Jan 23

Storm Large: Whether to Become “Crazy Enough”

First, a musical based on her life—and a CD to include its songs—and now, her written memoir. The title of all three? Crazy Enough. The performer/singer/author? Storm Large.

I saw Storm Large front the fantastic musical group Pink Martini last summer when their regular lead singer, China Forbes, was sidelined for a spell. One reviewer who’d seen a similar show on their tour aptly stated that Large exhibits an “over-the-top-yet-remarkably-on-point style.”

The book, which was released on January 10th, is described on her website:

Storm spent most of her childhood visiting her mother in mental institutions and psych wards. Suzi’s diagnosis changed with almost every doctor visit, ranging from schizophrenia to bipolar disorder to multiple personality disorder to depression. As hard as it was not having her at home, Storm and her brothers knew that it was a lot safer to have their beautiful but unreliable mom in a facility somewhere. Then one day, nine-year-old Storm jokingly asked one of her mother’s doctors, ‘I’m not going to be crazy like that, right?’ To which he replied, ‘Well, yes. It’s hereditary. You absolutely will end up like your mother. But not until your twenties.’


Maybe you can already imagine what happened next. Besides not actually becoming her mother, that is…

“Knowing” that she would be “crazy” herself someday, she lived on the edge from an early age, growing right into her real birth name of “Storm.” (She also grew into her given surname of “Large,” developing to six feet tall in her early teens.) She did in fact develop a heroin addiction and an eating disorder; and she did in fact develop other kinds of “craziness” and issues.

What eventually saved her in her 20’s? Music.

As told by her book publisher, Simon and Schuster:

…with nothing to live for and a growing heroin addiction, Storm accepted a chance invitation to sing with a friend’s band. That night she reconnected with her long-term love of music, and it dragged her back from the edge. She has been singing and slinging inappropriate banter at audiences worldwide ever since…With tremendous honesty and tremendous dirty language, Crazy Enough is about an artist’s journey of realizing that the mistakes that make, break, and remake us are worth far more than our flailing attempts to live a life we think is ‘normal.’ It is a love song to the twisted, flawed parts in all of us and a nod to the grace we find when things fall apart.

Publisher’s Weekly: “…her memoir boils down to the tension inherent in her relationship with her mother, who used her sickness as emotional manipulation. In her gutsy, shrill way, Large exhibits an engaging insouciance in delving into very real, scary, emotionally weighty issues.”

Kirkus Reviews: “The author’s prose is casual and vernacular, rife with descriptions that are not for the faint of heart. Though not necessarily likable, she comes across as authentic and unapologetic.”

It looks like the most popular YouTube video of Storm Large, by far, involves the song “8 Miles Wide,” which was part of her one-woman show. It’s basically a tribute to her vagina, which her lyrics indicate is only “…a metaphor for [my] super vigantastically mystical feminine goddess core.”

Update, 2022: My selection below, on the other hand, has her performing on America’s Got Talent, in what is one of the best examples of her least out-there-ness: