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).
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.”