Given its brief running time, there would’ve been ample room to better flesh out the character dynamics and personal histories on display in the affecting and harrowing “6 Balloons.” But make no mistake: It’s a compliment to first-time feature writer-director Marja-Lewis Ryan that we want more of what she has to offer.
Set during one fraught late afternoon and evening, the film finds Katie (“Broad City’s” Abbi Jacobson) readying a birthday party for her boyfriend (Dawan Owens) while, at the same time, dealing with a far graver matter: the relapse of her heroin-addict brother, Seth (Dave Franco).
To that end, Katie urgently shuttles Seth — his toddler daughter, Ella (twins Charlotte and Madeline Carel), disturbingly in tow — across Los Angeles in search of an available detox center, with stops for a skid row drug buy, an unnerving pharmacy needle purchase (and bathroom fix), and a birthday cake pickup.
Meanwhile, party guests, including Katie and Seth’s parents (Jane Kaczmarek and Tim Matheson: more, please), gather and celebrate, curious, of course, about Katie’s absence.
Anchored by Jacobson’s touchingly layered turn as a dutiful enabler, this risk-taking piece has an effectively anxious, naturalistic feel (it was inspired by producer Samantha Housman’s own experience), with Franco bringing credible charm and desperation to the messed-up Seth.
The meditation podcast heard throughout and the film’s drowning motif can feel a bit schematic but ultimately have their place.
Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
Playing: Streaming on Netflix