Netflix’s 6 Balloons is the age-old story of addiction, but with a focus on the enabler, rather than the addict.
Most of the drama is set inside a old sedan, with a self-help audiobook playing in the background as Katie struggles with her relationship with her brother, Seth, a heroin addict.
Katie — played by Broad City‘s Abbi Jacobson — is a perfectionist, unwilling to give up on her brother despite repeated, failed trips to detox centers. Seth, played by Dave Franco, is an unstable and unfit father to his 2-year-old daughter, Ella. When Seth fails to show up to her party, Katie drives to his apartment and begins a relentless quest to search for help.
Jacobson and Franco effortlessly depict the classic brother-sister duo. They argue in the car, critique one another and simultaneously reminisce of childhood innocence. These scenes are relatable and humorous despite the backdrop of addiction.
6 Balloons depicts the tumultuous nature and complexity of addiction. It can happen to anyone, even the seemingly privileged. It can happen unexpectedly and it affects people in different ways.
At 74 minutes, 6 Balloons is powerful but lacks a certain oomph. The movie concludes strong, but feels rushed and fails to tie together loose ends. A good portion of the film depicts Franco sweating in the car, and yet it fails to answer key questions like how the addiction started and the whereabouts of Ella’s mom.
The movie also fails to follow through on storylines with potential — for example, Katie’s overbearing mother, who in early scenes critiques Katie’s appearance. Afterward, the mother is absent, aside for a few constructive comments here and there. Viewers can deduct the strained relationship between Seth, Katie and their parents, but it’s never fully explored.
While most addiction movies focus on the addict, 6 Balloons highlights the enabler. The story of addiction isn’t unique, but telling the story from Katie’s point of view helps it explore a different side of the issue. Viewers understand Katie’s attitude, mindset and dilemma.
The movie effectively balances music and tone. Dramatic, classical undertones parallel climatic scenes. GPS directions in the car perfectly underscore Katie’s constantly-playing self-help tape. When Katie drives through a sketchy neighborhood seeking drugs, police sirens are heard in the distance. “Do anything to save it” says the tape, and the GPS repeats “turn around.”
6 Balloons triumphs in sound and conviction. It’s a poignant indie interpretation of addiction, but the rushed ending kills it before it really gets started.