6 Balloons (2018)

NR Running Time: 74 mins



  • With the onslaught of original programming coming to the Netflix service in 2018, 6 Balloons is one of the better movies they have offered so far this year.

  • Short, succinct, efficient, Marja Lewis-Ryan's film is a captivating, consuming, look at addiction and how it rattles the world of everyone else, not just that of the addict.

  • Breaking out from her comedy wrappings, Abbi Jacobson equips herself quite well as a sister simply trying to work through an increasingly perilous and untenable situation.


  • What exists for 74 minutes could have likely existed in a short film. Feels a little padded at this length.

  • Struggles to have lasting depth, beyond a surface-level understanding and interpretation of what's unfolding in front of us.

  • Perhaps those in a similar situation will find 6 Balloons difficult to watch.


As Netflix promises over 700 original series and movies on their platform by the end of 2018, it becomes increasingly impossible to know what's available on the streaming service. After dipping their toes in awards season waters with a few fiction films, landing four Oscar nominations for Mudbound last year, the studio has started making more of their original films available to critics and journalists for review purposes.

Ahead of its April 6, 2018 premiere on the network, Marja-Lewis Ryan's 6 Balloons was made available for viewing, and it is clear to see that even an overbearing Netflix recognizes this is not a movie just to be digitally shelved and archived. 6 Balloons might just be better, worthy of a look from a wide array of subscribers. 

6 Balloons serves as Ryan's directorial and screenwriting debut, and she clearly is a filmmaker worth paying attention to. Over the course of one long Los Angeles evening, she positions her cameras on a day in the life of Katie (Abbi Jacobson), who just so happens to be arranging a surprise 36th birthday party for boyfriend Jack (Dawan Owens).

Friends, parents, extended family - all are coming to the party and Katie is rushing around, running errands and gathering things needed for the bash. After a contentious trip for balloons with her mother (Jane Kaczmarek), and her brother Seth (Dave Franco) is mentioned almost as a memory,  she later decides to swing by his place to pick him up. Through the window, she finds a couple of large stacks of mail, assorted packages, and other deliveries untouched. And instantly she fears the worst.

Seth is a recovering heroin addict, but at the onset of his last relapse, his living conditions looked similar. As she picks him up, and his 4-year-old daughter Ella, he seems off. Soon, he begins sweating, then growing agitated and increasingly in pain. He needs to score and his body is screaming for a fix.

As Katie's night unfolds, she will be put in situations she never anticipated. Ryan's screenplay feels authentic and experienced, giving us a vivid, lived-in portrayal of the collateral effects addiction has on people. Franco, who lost considerable weight for the role, gives us a sympathetic figure in Seth, though we also sympathize with Katie's anger, sadness, and fear in trying to help him through his escalating emotional and physical breakdown.

This is all constructed in a basic enough way, with the only deviation from a conventional screenplay being the use of what seems like a self-help audiobook, providing us examples of how to survive a sinking boat. Though occasionally insightful, the narrative breaks prove more distracting than helpful to us as viewers, as Katie seems emotionally disconnected from the audio she is apparently calling upon or listening to as she totes around Los Angeles.

What 6 Balloons does get right is the absolute soul-crushing realities people wrestle with when confronted with someone's addiction. We see the gamut here: The folks who have written Seth off and never want to see him again. The people who wish him well and want to see him succeed. And those who curl up their face and look at him as if he has a gigantic Scarlet Letter imprinted on his body. Ryan understands that no one knows quite exactly how or what to feel when Seth is around, and Katie stands chiefly among all of them.

From her brilliant comedic work on Comedy Central's "Broad City," this is a new leaf for Jacobson, who impresses here with great dramatic timing and instincts. Watch the scene where she must reason with a pharmacist, who flips the switch from courteous customer service to a face of pure disdain when Katie has to ask for a certain kind of needle. When the pharmacist returns with the package, and makes a snarky comment, Jacobson nails the response perfectly, saying with one look and fewer words - I understand, I may even agree, but this is my brother, you don't know what I've been through, and leave us alone.

A difficult watch at times, with Franco and Jacobson terrific in their scenes together, 6 Balloons left me wanting more. Of course, as it stands, the film could likely be compressed into a short film, but there is ample room for Ryan to flesh out more details and give us a denser and deeper exploration into Katie and Seth's worlds. 

However, at 74 minutes, 6 Balloons is still a debut worth paying attention to, Marja-Lewis Ryan presenting a cinematic voice I cannot wait to hear more from, with a project that shows us more complexity with Jacobson and Franco's range and abilities than we have seen up to this point.

6 Balloons is a cut above the vast array of content Netflix tosses up on a weekly basis. This is a film worth going out of your way to see.


Starring: Abbi Jacobson, Dave Franco, Jane Kaczmarek, Tim Matheson, Dawan Owens, Maya Erskine, Heidi Sulzman.

Director: Marja-Lewis Ryan
Written by: Marja-Lewis Ryan
Release Date: April 6, 2018