The last time I saw my father, he was working at a convenience store around the corner from the house I’d never seen before with a roommate I’d never met. It was an awkward conversation. He’d been an addict for years. He looked good that day, though. He told me he’d cleaned up. I believed him. We had a long, painfully honest conversation about it — the habit had been hard, like a bad debt you couldn’t shake. He said at one point that there were times when he thought it’d be easier on everyone if he just wasn’t here anymore. I swallowed heavily, and I found myself agreeing with him, which is a weird thing: agreeing with your Dad that death is a better state than what he — we — had been experiencing. His death would have been like losing a 3-ton weight.
A guy knocked on the door while I was there. He gave my Dad something. I have no idea what. My Dad said he was just a friend, and I was feeling too hopeful, too optimistic about my Dad’s future to question him. It’d been an unusually good conversation, and I didn’t want to ruin it. When I left that day to drive 1500 miles to Boston, my Dad stood at the screen door and waved. I could see him crying. I just thought, you know, he was sad about me moving away.
A few months later, my sister called me on my second day of law school. My father had given up, or given in to the demon. I don’t know which. I’ll never know.
And that’s my story, but you don’t care about my story. I’m a guy who writes for a website. There are literally hundreds of thousands of stories like mine. A lot of you probably have your own. There are stories like these in the local newspapers all around the country: A Mom overdoses with a baby in the car. A couple overdoses in their apartments and aren’t discovered for days. A father loses his 18-year-old son days before he’s set to go off to college. But those stories, like mine, are about other people.
And that, I think, is what’s so exceptional about Marja-Lewis Ryan’s 6 Balloons. It’s a movie that lets us into the lives of two people, Katie (Abbi Jacobson) and Seth (Dave Franco), and personalizes the experience. They’re not your stereotypical addicts. They’re just people, like us, or the kind you work with, or that live down the street from you, or people you see in the grocery store.
Katie is throwing a surprise birthday party for her boyfriend, a party she has been looking forward to for weeks. The afternoon of the party, however, she picks up her brother, Seth, and finds that he’s been using again. Seth’s adorable three-year-old daughter is in the backseat. She decides to take him to detox. It’s not his first time.
The detox facility won’t take his insurance. Katie needs to get back to her party planning. She puts Seth in a cab and takes his daughter with her back to her house, where she gets a phone call telling her that she has to pick Seth up. She tells her parents she’s going to get the birthday cake and takes Seth’s daughter with her. When she shows up, Seth is in the throes of withdrawal. It’s agonizing. He vomits. He wails. He moans. He shits in a parking lot. His three-year-old daughter is there to witness it all. She cries because her Dad is crying, because that’s what three-year-olds do.
With detox out of the question, to save her brother’s life, Katie has to resort to finding her brother some heroin. The night only gets worse from there, but once Seth is high again, he’s his old self. He’s a better version of himself. He’s charming and funny and loving and we immediately understand why Katie is so adamant about saving his life. He’s a great guy, but his problem is now her problem, and she is drowning in his problems.
It’s a searing depiction of an addicted father and his co-dependent sister, and there’s something about seeing Dave Franco and Abbi Jacobsen in those roles that makes it so much more relatable. They’re like people we know. A young father. A woman who just wants to give her boyfriend a party. We have no idea how Seth ended up in the situation he is in, but it hardly matters. It really could happen to almost anyone. Addiction is an ugly, painful, horrifying thing that takes sons away from mothers, fathers away from daughters. Six Balloons personalizes that, and it makes that story our own, or at least one that could be our own. It’s a powerful, restrained, and weirdly beautiful film about addiction, about co-dependence, about siblings, and about family, and about that one night when a sister had to buy her brother heroin so that he wouldn’t die.
It airs on Netflix on April 6th.
‘6 Balloons’ screened at the 2018 SXSW Film Conference.