There’s a conflict at the heart of 6 Balloons that would have made a great film. But despite two great performances and a few salient points, it’s a new Netflix release that only manages to scratch the surface about its subject matter.
Revolving around brother and sister duo played by Abbi Jacobson and Dave Franco the film opens with Jacobson’s Katie putting the final touches on a surprise birthday party for her boyfriend, before quickly devolving into getting Franco’s Seth, to a detox center to treat a heroin addiction.
We follow the duo through scenario after scenario, from finding Seth’s drugs to a harrowing scene where he gets high in the bathroom stall of a drugstore. Everything is sequenced together well and makes sense thematically but I never felt the impact or consequence of anything they were doing. A conversation between Katie and a druggist who knows what’s happening is situationally appropriate, but comes off as flat and random.
6 Balloons is shot fairly well, with a lot of tight handycam work lending a sense of claustrophobia that meshes well with the subject matter. Jacobson and Franco are both great here, but we’ve known what Franco’s capable of dramatically so it’s really Jacobson who steals the show, giving a stripped down performance that’s opposite to her comedic work on Broad City.
But once 6 Balloons shifts its focus firmly onto the heroin use and its consequences, it lost steam for me. Themes of how drugs tear at family threads is prevalent and there’s a very brief mention of an opioid addiction, but it’s quickly cast aside for a more character driven piece. Which would have been fine, because 6 Balloons isn’t The Wire or Requiem for a Dream. Not every film about addiction has to be laser focused on the substance. But the problem with 6 Balloons as a character piece is that the characters aren’t really explored, we know nothing new about Kate and Seth at the end of the film that we hadn’t learned in the beginning.
There was a chance to have great commentary on an opioid epidemic that’s destroying large swaths of North America. Focusing on young people struggling with a very real reality would have been refreshing and a more potent film. 6 Balloons makes the first few steps down that path before stopping and reverting back to a simple character piece that’s admirable but ultimately pointless. There were a lot of opportunities to mesh these two things together well, a character driven film that deals with the prevalent opioid epidemic ravaging North America.
I would have loved the filmmakers to explore how a medically prescribed substance led to the destruction of a middle class family, since it’s a narrative that feels all too real in today’s society. Instead we’re treated to a half-hearted character piece that never feels committed to its subject matter, anchored by two performances that are good, but not great.
Despite its shortcomings I did love the brother-sister relationship fostered between Kate and Seth. Franco and Jacobson take what little info we know about the characters and create believable if one-note characters. The love they have for one another and the lengths Kate goes to, too help her brother feel genuine. I especially love the manipulative depiction of an addict, the promises to get better, the last bump excuses—it all felt realistic, down to the complete personality shift when Franco finally does score, going from sullen and hostile to jubilant and gregarious.
By Devin Jones