Netflix continues their 2018 onslaught of original content with the new drama film 6 Balloons. The movie stars Broad City's Abbi Jacobson in her first dramatic starring role in a feature, and sees her portray a woman who discovers that her heroin addict brother, played by Dave Franco, has relapsed. The movie's subject matter is very intense and also very timely, given the surging opioid crisis that's currently plaguing the nation, but is 6 Balloons on Netflix a true story? Or is the film a work of pure fiction?
The film is the first screenplay written by newcomer Marja-Lewis Ryan to be made into a feature film. Not only that, but Ryan is also making her directorial debut with the film. The movie takes place over one night and revolves around Jacobson's character driving her brother around Los Angeles in search of a detox center. Also along for the ride is his 2-year-old daughter, adding an additional element to an already powerful story. And while the film isn't completely factual, it is actually based on a true story. The real traumatic night behind the film isn't based on something that happened to Ryan, even though she wrote the film, but rather an event from the life of one of the movie's producers, Samantha Housman.
Housman is not only a producer on the film, she's also good friends with Ryan. Housman had called Ryan several years ago to share the story of her horrific experience of driving her heroin-addicted lawyer brother around one night in search of finding help for him, and the story stuck with Ryan. "I remember getting that phone call from her and hearing about this impossibly difficult night and I wanted to honor her experience and I don't think she's alone, unfortunately," Ryan told KTBC FOX 7 Austin.
What inspired Ryan to ultimately write a story about her friend's deeply personal experience was the rise of the opioid epidemic. Depictions of the issue in the media generally focus on the plight of the addicts themselves, but Ryan was more interested in telling the story of those affected by the addicts. "The story had stuck with me, because [Housman] is one of my dearest friends in the whole world, and it was an incredibly painful time in her life, as I’m sure you could imagine. And then, as the opioid epidemic grew, that story stayed with me, because I wasn’t hearing that story," Ryan told Hammer to Nail's Christopher Llewellyn Reed. "And I was like, 'That doesn’t make any sense,' because this story must be happening. There were all those photos coming out of addicts in the front seat of a car, passing out, with their baby in the back. It was so brutal to see that. But then we were also missing half of the story, which is the enabler’s story, the story of learning to let go with love. That felt like something I hadn’t really seen before."
Ryan has also discussed how this realistic brother-sister relationship, as well as the inclusion of the young child, help make the film's characters more relatable to viewers. "How many times have I heard in my life: 'go help your brother'? That’s how I came to it," Ryan told Film Inquiry's Hazem Fahmy of her approach. "And the baby became the thing he has to do, despite his state. He somehow has to change diapers — well, he doesn’t do anything — but those kinds of things have to be done. And those things kept him real to me."
6 Balloons is a difficult watch that's made all the more troubling with the knowledge that it is based on an actual real life example of opioid addiction and how its affects often extend beyond just the addict.