Most addiction stories can really only end in two ways: recovery, or death. 6 Balloons — a fraught, intimate drama that unfolds in near-real time over the course of one day in L.A. — waits until nearly the final frame to make clear which side it will fall on. And even then, it’s more a stop-gap than an end.
Abbi Jacobson (in a role far from her Broad City shenanigans) is Katie, a thirtyish Angelino planning a surprise party for her boyfriend, Jack (Dawan Owens). Contained and quietly sardonic, she’s the kind of low-key Type A who listens to self-help audiotapes and re-rolls the dough on her pigs in a blanket when a friend wraps them too casually.
A morning full of ordinary pre-party errands — buying decorations, stocking the cooler, finding just the right festive outfit — eventually segues to picking up her brother Seth (The Disaster Artist’s Dave Franco) and his toddler daughter, Ella (played by twins Charlotte and Madeline Carel). Seth is the all-id yin to her uptight yang: Loose and goofy and breezily dismissive of the rules. It’s also clear pretty quickly that he’s going into heavy withdrawal from heroin.
Katie’s game-time decision to take him straight to a treatment center or see the party through and deal with the fallout later becomes the crux of Balloons’ dramatic tension, as much as it has some. What the story really feels like it’s about, though, is the endless, disorienting dance between addicts and the people who love them. Seth is selfish and maddening and kind of a mess; he’s also charming and funny and brings out a reckless joy in Katie that she doesn’t show anyone else.
Writer-director Marja-Lewis Ryan (whose next project, incongruously, is the slated Splash reboot with Channing Tatum and Jillian Bell) gracefully unfolds the ongoing push-pull of Seth and Katie’s relationship, and doesn’t turn away from the uglier scatalogical realities of using. Where she stumbles is in the heavy indie-moviemaking-101 signifiers, especially the self-help narrator’s voice as a recurring, thuddingly obvious metaphor for what’s happening onscreen. At just over 70 minutes, Balloons feels more like a sketch or a character study than a fully realized film, but it’s an affecting sketch nonetheless. B