6 Balloons movie review: Netflix gem celebrates ordinariness of day-to-day existence as few films do

Bhaskar Chattopadhyay

Apr 19, 2018 14:02:04 IST


Marja-Lewis Ryan’s latest offering 6 Balloons is a beautiful film that details the highs and lows of the relationship between a heroin-addict brother and his caring and controlling elder sister, all over one evening — that of 4 July. While that sounds like too thin or simple a plot, the film itself is packed with such wonderful moments of tension and joy alternating in cycles, that it grabs your attention and never lets go all through its 70-minute running time.

Katie, in her early 30s, is known to her parents and friends as a micro-managing control freak who hates delays and ambiguities. On the evening of 4 July, which is also her boyfriend Jack’s birthday, she has planned a surprise party. When her father arrives at her house and announces that he has forgotten to pick up her brother Seth, Katie is forced to go fetch Seth and his 2-year-old daughter Ella, even as she plans to pick up the cake on the way. Her plans go haywire, though, when she realises that Seth, who has been clean for some time from his narcotic addiction, is having a relapse, while his toddler daughter is still with him. Katie is now forced to drive around Los Angeles with Seth and Ella, knocking the doors of one detox centre after another, trying desperately to get someone to take care of his brother, even as Seth groans in excruciating pain next to her, and Ella sings ‘The wheels of the bus go round and round’ in the backseat.

It is this simple and yet fantastic premise that becomes the strongest foundation of a movie that is dense with clever little ideas and moments of awe and inspiration, one that celebrates ordinariness of our day-to-day existence like no one ever does these days. Consider, for instance, the tiny details of the gang neighbourhood where Katie is forced to drive to, in order to let Seth take one last hit before finding a detox centre. Or the tight shots inside the car and the shaky camerawork that heighten the tension as Seth almost dies in Katie’s car before the eyes of his baby girl. Or the scenes of celebration at the party that Katie had planned while all of this is happening. All these scenes are signs of a director who is confident, and who knows what she is doing.

Throughout the film, we hear a self-help audiobook narration as a voiceover, which can safely be assumed as the inner voice of a calmer, saner and more reserved Katie — a person she desires to be, but a person she is clearly not. Over 10 chapters, the voice tells the story of a boat that Katie is on, and which capsizes in the middle of the ocean, letting Katie drown. It is only by the middle of the movie, though, that we begin to realise that this voice is uncannily similar to the satellite navigation voice of her car as she drives through the city of Los Angeles looking for someone to save her brother. As the two voices merge in one tense scene, one can’t help but applaud the effect it creates — a masterstroke of a device used to tell a simple tale of anxiety, depression and hopelessness.

One realises that Katie and her brother are caught in a time warp, and although their bodies and minds have grown, their hearts still belong to their childhood memories of the elder sister taking care of the younger brother, no matter what. It is this feeling of being taken for granted that also plays on Katie’s mind, as she refuses to let go of her brother even when he is at his worst, and even when everyone else, including his own parents have betrayed him. Amidst such conflicting feelings, there’s also the question of the child – little Ella – who Katie sees merely as an extension of the brother she was presumably once responsible for, while her parents were too busy to look after them. Katie protects and safeguards the child, while still ruing the fact that she has wasted her entire life looking after her brother, finally leading to her boyfriend leaving her. The brother-sister duo finally seem relieved more than anything else, as they can now be together in their own little world without having to worry about anyone else. But it is at that exact moment that Katie has a moment of epiphany that changes her relationship with her brother forever. A realisation that will save her from drowning in the misery of her own life.

Technically brilliant, boasting of some powerhouse performances — especially by Abbi Jacobson and Dave Franco — and with a script that deserves a standing ovation, 6 Balloons is one of the most powerful films I have seen in a long time. It reminded me that good films need not be about extraordinary people or events, and that a simple tale of love and courage, if told well, can create magic. A must-watch.

6 Balloons is currently streaming on Netflix. Watch the trailer here:

Updated Date: Apr 19, 2018 14:02:04 IST

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