Based on the way this movie opens, you wouldn’t expect to be watching a movie about heroin addiction, but what you get is something much different. As the story begins to unfold, you realize that Katie (Abbi Jacobson), is a witty control freak who leads a successful, middle-class life, but she is also plagued by something very dark.
The film opens with Katie running errands and prepping for her boyfriend’s surprise birthday party. However, she soon realizes that her brother Seth (Dave Franco) has relapsed on heroin again. You can see the color drain from her face as she peers through her brother’s apartment window and spots a stack of unopened mail. He stopped opening it a while ago and his voicemail was full…just like last time this happened.
Katie quickly abandons her own party plans to drive across Los Angeles with her brother in tow to find a detox center that accepts his insurance. Meanwhile, Seth is plagued by the intense horrors of opioid withdrawal—with his two-year-old daughter in the backseat.
Throughout the movie, Katie is faced with a reoccurring dilemma: try to help her brother or let him drown in his addiction. The film is periodically narrated by a self-help audio-book that brings her struggle to life with vivid imagery of a small boat capsizing at sea. Her internal struggle is intense and ultimately brings her to a breaking point at which she must decide how she wants to respond to her brother’s addiction while also dealing with the ups and downs in her own life.
“6 Balloons,” in its entirety, takes place over the course of one single night as Katie and her brother battle difficult, challenging, and even dangerous situations. Although the emotionally-intense scenes are sometimes difficult to watch, they are punctuated by dark humor and the quirks of a closely bonded sibling relationship that has already endured so much.
While this movie very accurately depicts the ups and downs of life with an addicted loved one, it also does a great job of exposing the blurry boundaries that separate helping from enabling.
Before you watch this movie, it’s important to know that “6 Balloons” is a low-budget film that is not necessarily awe-inspiring or full of dramatic flair. Instead, it dives right into an extremely complex issue and attempts to tackle it in a very real and honest way. With authentic and accurate displays of life as a heroin addict and a codependent loved one, you’ll likely be uncomfortable watching it—which is the point.
Overall, “6 Balloons” is an excellent portrayal of a codependent relationship and the difficulties of loving someone who is addicted to heroin. Katie’s struggle to let go of her brother is real, raw and relatable. While this movie does contain scenes that could be a trigger for someone in recovery, it may be helpful for those who are struggling to accept the realities of a close friend’s or family member’s substance use disorder.
“6 Balloons” is available to watch on Netflix with a subscription.