Film Review: ‘6 Balloons’ Flatlines as a Drug Drama

There’s a long tradition of comedy actors fielding praise for going dramatic. Robin Williams has earned Oscars for it. Jim Carrey, Steve Carrell and Kristin Wiig have all gained shocks and accolades for their skill at changing it up. Netflix’s latest film “6 Balloons” wants to do the same for Abbi Jacobson and Dave Franco. However, this heroin drama falls flat in execution. It’s drama is overwrought, as it constantly tries to stay one step above a low grade Lifetime movie.

Katie (Abbi Jacobson) wants to plan the perfect surprise party for her boyfriend Jack (Dawan Owens). This includes dealing with the normal trappings of party planning. Her Mom (Jane Kaczmarek) goes crazy in the 99 cent store. Her friends bug her about forgetting the cake and other small trappings. However, the biggest snag is her brother Seth (Dave Franco). A recovering heroin addict, Seth has started using again. When Katie picks Seth up, she embarks on a harrowing mission to get him into detox and help him taper off the drugs. Matters are complicated as Katie also has to deal with Sean’s young daughter Ella (Charlotte and Madeline Carel), also in tow.

The film seems to exist merely to show that Abbi Jacobson and Dave Franco can do drama. Jacobson, for what it’s worth, can. She presents a weary sister who feels this unrequited loyalty that she knows is toxic. Nevertheless, she helps her brother and struggles to articulate why. It’s an interesting performance in that she employs many of the same tactics that make her comedy work so well. She stammers and displays this vulnerability that allows the audience to relate to her. The film wants us to believe she is stretching herself. Instead, Jacobson shows that maybe comedy and drama aren’t as different from a tactical perspective as one thinks.

Franco, however, falls much more flat. His drug addicted brother wants to be this “transformative” acting experience. However, it comes across as a paper thin attempt to be taken seriously. The film makes a good choice in plopping us down in this one day scenario and not handing us unnecessary backstory. However, Jacobson and the filmmakers act in such a way to suggest a larger lived in life. Franco merely recites the words on page. He acts groggy when he’s down and manic when he’s up. It’s an incomplete performance that fails to paint the larger picture of the character.

“6 Balloons” wants to be this gritty indie that causes people to think. However, it tries too hard in every scenario. The motifs of Katie’s audiobooks and the accompanying water filled car all are shockingly on the nose. The film beats everyone over the head with its message. Yes, it’s hard to deal with a family member suffering from addiction. There’s a reason the film is 74 minutes and still feels too long. It’s because the movie has relatively little to say. It presents this horrifying scenario, but doesn’t have any further comment on it. Drugs are bad and hurt the ones we love. Riveting. Writer/director Marja-Lewis Ryan wants the film to be tough and challenging. However, everything seems forced, on the nose and, in a way, simplistic.

This feels like a very personal film with a lot of heart and emotional hurt behind it. Yet, as a film it leaves a good bit to be desired. This string of events occur, but much of it feels like shock value. Tension exists, as Lifetime level cliches lurk around every corner. A scene in a pharmacy where Katie is forced to buy needles from a clerk who knows full well what’s happening expertly demonstrates the humiliation and fear one feels as they enable an addict. Yet, it piles on the drama thick once Seth’s daughter defecates herself and we are forced to watch Katie change the girl in the same bathroom where Seth shoots up. As if we weren’t clear the dynamic that was in place between these people, we need a poorly lit darkened shot to further underscore it.

“6 Balloons” is currently streaming on Netflix.

GRADE: (1/2)

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