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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that 6 Balloons is a powerful 75-minute tale of drug addiction and is for mature viewers only. Taking place in almost real-time, the story depicts a loving sister desperately trying to save her brother during a painful withdrawal from heroin while in the company of his vulnerable toddler daughter. The withdrawal scenes are realistically chilling; the child is consistently at emotional risk; the sister is torn between her desire to fix her brother and her knowledge that it may not be possible. An explicit scene of drug use is excruciating, heightened by juxtaposition with an aunt taking care of a toddler's basic needs. Profanities are frequent and include "f--k," "s--t," and "bastard." Expect vomiting and assorted visuals of a child's poop. This is an adult movie, made with insight, realism, and attention to the smallest details of an agonizing situation in which no one is in control, and answers are hard to come by.
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What's the story?
Katie (Abbi Jacobson) is breathlessly getting ready for a surprise party for her boyfriend as 6 BALLOONS opens. Friends and family are there to help, but Katie, the perfectionist, is as nervous as she is excited. When it becomes clear that her brother, Seth (Dave Franco), and his toddler daughter haven't arrived, Katie puts a hold on her own preparations and goes to Seth's to pick them up. What she finds is a Seth she knows too well. It quickly becomes evident that he's in the initial stages of heroin withdrawal ... again. Intensifying the moment is the fact that Seth's 2-year-old is wholly at the mercy of her unstable father’s condition. What follows are a few frantic hours during which Katie, in the role of sister, caretaker, and parent to both the child and the adult, attempts to do the right thing, even if it involves a desperate stop at a rehab facility, a stealthy visit to a drug-riddled neighborhood, and a harrowing encounter in a pharmacy.
Is it any good?
There aren't too many new ways of putting drug addiction under a filmed microscope, but writer-director Marja-Lewis Ryan has created an original, affecting drama that will both disturb and inspire. Relying on a singularly restrained yet powerful performance from Jacobson, best known for her in-your-face comedy on Broad City (which she co-created), Ryan tells an intimate, shattering tale. Franco delivers in the role of the desperate, self-destructive brother with so much at stake, and toddler twins Charlotte and Madeline Carel as Ella don't act; they simply break your heart. Some may find Ryan's inclusion of a self-help audio tape distracting or artificial, but it builds confidently and proves to be a wise, even audacious choice.
6 Balloons is a short film -- 75 minutes -- but tellingly, first-timer Ryan realized there was no need to give the characters any overt backstory. Job history, old grievances, and Seth's marital trials simply don't matter. What's clear is that Katie has been through this ordeal of "saving" her brother over and over again. What's less clear is whether or not Seth will ultimately take responsibility and be able to save himself. And that's a truth this thoughtful film doesn't try to answer.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the realistic nature of 6 Balloons. How does such realism raise the stakes for audiences? Which specific scenes did writer-director Marja-Lewis Ryan create to keep the film as intimate as possible?
The film is said to be based on the true story of one of the film's producers. How does such a close, well-told look at one person's experience impact the lives of others? How do movies like this one become teachable moments?
Two "artificial" voices were used in this film: the narrator of the self-help book and the navigation system voice. How did either or both voices affect you? Did you find them distracting? Jarring? Enlightening? By the end of the film, did you understand the writer-director's intention in including them? Was she successful?
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