Director: Marja-Lewis Ryan
Screenplay: Marja-Lewis Ryan
Starring: Abbi Jacobson, Dave Franco
Runtime: 74 Minutes
As refreshing as it is seeing the heavy hitting comedic talents of Abbi Jacobson and Dave Franco taking on a more dramatic and considerably smaller breed of project than we’re used to seeing them in, 6 Balloons feels like a film that could have gotten on just as well without them in the picture.
That’s not a criticism of their dramatic potential, merely an observation that the dark dramatic conflict at the centre of this small-scale story could have been carried just as well by any number of capable unknown performers and the spell that it casts would remain more or less unchanged.
Said conflict is the unfolding day and night in which Katie (Abbi Jacobson) is pulled away from the preparations for her boyfriends surprise birthday party by the needs of her brother Seth (Dave Franco) who has suffered from a relapse and needs help, and she is forced to drive Seth and his young daughter around looking for an open clinic to check him into
The entire anchor for the drama falls on the shoulders of the incredibly strained yet intimate relationship between these siblings, and Jacobson and Franco play off each other phenomenally well. Jacobson’s uptight scheduling and self-management are established through shorthand early on and she’s really good at playing someone who is at all times trying to remain calm. Franco is lumped with an equally difficult task of conveying an individual trying to keep up a cheerful expression while suffering from major withdrawal symptoms.
The symptoms manifest themselves in stark and truly horrifying ways. This is genuinely one of the more realistic depictions of substance abuse and the effects of such that has been seen for quite some time. From cramps and diarrhoea attacks to the constant pulsating and sweating that further slips him and the audience into an intense state of discomfort.
There are few stylistic flourishes to the depiction of use and effects, with director Marja-Lewis Ryan opting to ride out this situation as realistically as possible in all its nasty facets. The artistic edge that it does take comes in the form of displacing Katie’s psyche as the world around her is occasionally submerged in water as she struggles to keep her head above.
As on the nose as that metaphor might be, it works surprisingly well at smothering the audience and placing them in her shoes as similarly significant self-help recordings play out over the more desperate scenes, with the metaphor of a sinking boat she chooses to step on mirroring the events in her life.
It’s all very obvious and doesn’t need much explanation, but that’s kind of why it works at conveying immediate emotions on an intimate scale, and first-time feature director Ryan has a strong sense of control over the tone, editing and ambient soundscape to allow it to flow as smoothly as it does. You get the sense that not only has this happened numerous times before through their unbreakable bond holding it together, but that there’s maybe something more wrong with Katie’s personal life and wellbeing that doesn’t feel totally explored in the framework of the narrative.
6 Balloons’ deceptively slight premise feels in execution like more than the sum of its parts. A darkly blunt yet realistic depiction of a co-dependent relationship, wherein both parties are trapped in a circle of a course where the only destination is that of mutual destruction. This is a very strong debut and possibly one of the year’s most inconspicuous gems.