Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Movie Review: 6 Balloons

6 Balloons *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Marja-Lewis Ryan.
Written by: Marja-Lewis Ryan.
Starring: Dave Franco (Seth), Abbi Jacobson (Katie), Tim Matheson (Gary), Jane Kaczmarek (Gayle), Maya Erskine (Cameron), Jen Tullock (Bianca), Dawan Owens (Jack), Shevyn Roberts (Selena).
There have been a lot of movies about drug addicts over the years, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one quite like 6 Balloons. The film takes place over one long night, and is less focused on the heroin addict himself, Seth (Dave Franco) and more on his sister, Katie (Abbi Jacobson) who tries to help him. She worries about him, gets sucked into his world again and again. He was clean this time – or so she thought. He has a four year old daughter, and she’s staying with him at the moment. The night was supposed to be simple – Katie is throwing a surprise party for her boyfriend – she was just going to pick up Seth and Ella, his daughter, and bring them to her house for the party. Once he gets into that car though, she knows he’s using again.
6 Balloons is about their relationship of course, but also how hard it can be to let it go – to allow people you love to make those mistakes, instead of trying to bail them again and again. Eventually, everyone has a breaking point – and at some point during the night, you suspect that Katie will have hers. Her intentions are good – and you can see how every decision she makes does in fact make sense in the moment – but just draws her deeper in Seth’s bullshit. She tries to take him to a detox place – but they don’t except his insurance, and the cost is too much to pay out of pocket. She puts him in a cab to go to another place across town, but apparently he’s on the wrong drugs to go there. There’s a place way out in Pasadena that can though. Meanwhile, he’s starting to go into withdrawal, and just wants one more fix before he goes in. Katie drives Seth all over trying – everything being complicated by the three year old in the backseat, who doesn’t really understand what she is seeing.
Adding a kid to the mixture is at first worrying. You suspect that writer/director Marja-Lewis Ryan is going to use her as an emotional bludgeon – and put her in danger. But she doesn’t really. She does use the child to up the emotional stakes though – and show just why Katie may well stick around, rather than let Seth sink into the mess he’s made for himself. Drug addiction is messy. Seth is also great at manipulating Katie – bringing up happy memories of them together, making promises, and when all else fails, using guilt to keep her around, keep her doing one last thing. He shows no real interest that he is ruining a night that she has planned for a long time. Everything is about him, and his addiction.
Franco is great as Seth. He has mainly been doing comedies in the last few years, and is very good in them (I don’t think he’s necessarily a better actor than his brother, but he’s funnier, more charming, and less creepy). Yes, playing a drug addict gives an actor a lot of chances to show off, and Franco doesn’t shy away from those, but it’s mainly a low-key performance – and Franco does a good with it. Jacobson is even better as Katie – who is not given the same dialogue as Franco, not given the big moments, but makes the most out of a lot of quiet moments – moments where you can see her thought processes, her fear, her anger, her disgust, but also the love she feels. It’s a great performance from Jacobson – of Broad City fame (sorry, but I haven’t seen that show) – that suggests Jacobson can do whatever she wants when that show is over.
Overall, the movie isn’t quite as good as the two leads. It’s a short movie (barely 74 minutes), and feels slight in many ways. First time writer/director Ryan is perhaps a tad too heavy handed at times (the self-help book on tape about a sinking ship for example) – but mainly what she has done as crafted a low-key, subtle character study of these two people and their relationship – and how one of them finally decides they have had enough.

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