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  • It's a pity this film will not be more widely seen. It is an authentic demonstration of what it's like to live with one of the most enigmatic of mental disorders, autism, which afflicts about one person in 1000 (the more common and milder Asperger's syndrome affects about 6 in every thousand). Elissa Down, the maker of the film, has personal experience – two of her brothers are autistic – and with the aid of some truly accomplished acting she avoids cheap dramatics and conveys some genuine feeling.

    The family portrayed has its eccentricities but you could not describe it as dysfunctional. Dad (Eric Thompson) and Mum (Tony Collette) not only have a strong love for their autistic teenager Charlie (Luke Ford) but they have learned to cope with his behaviour. The dramatic tension comes from younger brother Thomas (Rhys Wakefield) who loves the brother he has grown up with but finds the effect Charlie's' behaviour has on other people hard to take. Charlie has a few less than endearing habits like throwing tantrums at supermarket checkouts and bursting into other people's houses to use their toilet. The general adolescent horror of people who are different doesn't help much either – having a "spastic" as a brother is not good for the image. Yet Thomas's developing relationship with neighbour and fellow lifesaving squad member Jackie (Gemma Ward) gets a positive push from his situation.

    As director, Elissa Down has a nice light touch, and the prejudice and distaste the family have to deal with are neatly sketched in. There are plenty of amusing moments; when a fight breaks out in a bus queue outside a high school several male teachers try ineffectually to stop it and it is the tiny but determined female lifesaving coach who, furiously blowing her whistle, restores order. Tough army NCO Dad holds conversations with his teddy bear and the two brothers wind up on stage together as dancing monkeys after Charlie's original partner throws a tantrum.

    It has been suggested that autism, which has a strong genetic component, is a variation on normal rather than a defect, but its severely disabling nature means it has to be regarded as a malfunction. Autistic savants with freakish mathematic powers a la "Rainman" are extremely rare. People with mild forms of autism can function quite well in society, but Charlie is not one of those and will require care for the rest of his life. All this film is asking is for a little understanding of the pressures on families who have to support people like Charlie. I wish one of the commercial channels would show this in prime time instead of the usual reality show crap.
  • Burdrew10 March 2008
    Thomas (Rhys Wakefield) has just started at a new high school. His father serves in the armed forces and the family has to relocate regularly. His brother Charlie (Luke Ford) has severe Autism and Attention Deficit Disorder. He's not able to speak and because he's the size of an adult, caring for him is not easy. At the start of the film we see him grunt with delight as he tramples a newly-bought carton of eggs into the kitchen floor.

    While Thomas's mother (Toni Collette) has accepted her son's condition, Thomas has not. He wants to keep his brother a secret from his new schoolmates but when one student (Gemma Ward) learns of his sibling, she's not put off.

    It's been a number of years since I've connected with an Australian film to the extent that I did with THE BLACK BALLOON. From the interesting title sequence at the start, we're drawn into the challenges of life with a family member suffering a developmental disability. While, I suppose, an outsider could never fully appreciate just how demanding such a life could be, the film gives us a very good idea.

    One of the film's many accomplishments is its successful blend of drama and comedy. It could quite easily have been a depressing affair but many of the brother's outrageous acts prove most amusing. On other occasions, they're heartbreaking.

    Equally fine is the performance by Luke Ford. Playing a handicapped character is a challenge for any actor, but Ford is totally convincing as Charlie. Never do we consider he's an actor playing a role.

    Toni Collette is first-rate as the ever-loving mother. She's heavily pregnant and when complications arise from her pregnancy, we can't help but wonder if the third child will be like Thomas or Charlie.

    The most likable of the characters is Thomas's classmate and later girlfriend, Jackie, played by Gemma Ward. Her acceptance of Charlie and her solid support for Thomas makes her most appealing. It's interesting to note that while Thomas sees Charlie as a burden, his formal introduction to Jackie and the development of their relationship has much to do with his brother.

    THE BLACK BALLOON is the work of first-time director Elissa Down, who studied film-making in Perth. She has done a sterling job. Having grown up with two Autistic brothers, it must be a profoundly personal work. The screenplay, by Down and Jimmy the Exploder, is honest and moving and the photography by Denson Baker is fine. I particularly appreciated his low- angle wide shots.

    THE BLACK BALLOON won the Crystal Bear at this year's Berlin Film Festival. It's an important film and deserves to be seen. The Australian Film Industry, sadly, does not have a good reputation, at home or overseas. But if we make films like this one, that's sure to change.
  • I saw 'The Black Balloon' last night as a charity event for our local disability services. All who attending the movie premier were people who live and breath disabilities. There were teachers from special schools, carers and parents of disabled children. I am a parent of an autistic boy and employed to work with special needs children, I found this movie to be funny, heart warming and realistic to memories of my own child. The movie is based on the everyday effects of living with a disabled sibling which I'm sure many siblings will relate to (I know my older girls will). The amount of attention given to Charlie is felt by Thomas and the enormous responsibility of caring for a disabled sibling at the age of 16 years was heartbreaking for him. I gave this movie a 10/10 because I felt the movie portrayed exactly how life is for a family with a disabled child. Luke Ford was excellent with portraying Charlie and Rhys Wakefield's exceptional representation of having to live with a disabled sibling will hopeful make the public think about the family life of a disabled child/adult before they stop and stare and whisper. Offer help and do not fear them for they are angels in disguise.
  • Are you sitting comfortably? Are you a tolerant, open-minded person reading this? How about if someone walks into your house, your bathroom, while your daughter is taking a shower. They act extremely weird. Can you still be kind and tolerant, acting reasonably towards a strapping young man who, unknown to you, is autistic?

    The tagline for this film is, "Normality is relative." So just how much of someone else's normality can you take?

    According to director Elissa Down, the Black Balloon is, "a metaphor for a 'different' childhood filled with moments of chaos, joy and sadness for what may have been." Our cinematic awareness of autism is probably defined by Rain Man, or the more nuanced but rarely seen Snow Cake. Elissa Down says how, "it was very important in the rehearsal process to take it to the streets and for Thomas and Charlie and Jackie and Thomas to do some road-testing of their characters in public." Charlie, her main character, announces the family arrival to the neighbours by banging a wooden spoon and wailing on the front lawn. Charlie doesn't speak. He's autistic and has ADD. He's unpredictable, unmanageable, and often disgusting. He recalls not the mediated autism of Rain Man or Snow Flake but the out-of-control weirdness appropriated by Lars von Trier's characters in the controversial film, The Idiots.

    Charlie is not 'nice' – at least not until you've managed to see him through the eyes of his devoted parents. To them, he is like a big child who has frequent tantrums. He's not an ideal brother to younger sibling Thomas, who's just turning sixteen. Especially as the girl in the shower is the girl he is trying to date. Especially as when he finally has her over to dinner, Charlie gets his testosterone-filled kit out at the table and gives it a good rub.

    The shower girl is Jackie Masters, Thomas' partner for basic life-saving classes at school. In what seems like a happy nod to mainstream cinema, Jackie is not only gorgeous but has a beautiful personality. She helps Thomas to feel more caring towards his brother as they soon form a threesome for days out together.

    Toni Collette plays the boys' Mum, heavily pregnant. Which means Charlie is called on to help Dad around the house a bit more and with looking after Thomas.

    The Black Balloon is an excellent example of Australian cinemas coming-of-age movies. It fearlessly reaches outside the box and sets up a tug-of-war between normalcy and idiosyncrasy. Although there are elements of rather unsubtle box-office pandering (the photogenic young couple and a rather simplistic finale) it opens up new challenges in the way we think about people. The Black Balloon is a film of which to be proud.
  • As my folks both worked in mental health care facilities, this movie reminded me of visits to their workplace. The audience at my screening were very quiet, yes I know it is a drama, but some aspects of Charlie behavior and reactions of others is quite funny. I felt guilty laughing in some scenes, hopefully it is not a sign of underlying mental issues!

    It does make you feel for those who care and live with people with special needs. A movie such as should be a real wake up call, love your family, it's the only one you have got.

    A good movie overall.

  • Life isn't easy for Thomas. Living as the younger brother in a family of four, with a fifth on the way is hard enough to begin with. It's even worse when the older brother is severely autistic and unable to care for himself in any way. So, quite naturally, Thomas struggles with growing up.

    Films dealing with family lives like this only work when they show all the sides to a story and this one does it well. All the members of the family are properly introduced and their interaction is done well enough to give the impression that it is a perfectly normal family, which has a specific difficulty added to it.

    The complexities of living with a mentally handicapped person are brought out well enough without ever being overly sentimental and, as far as I know from the interaction I have had with several autistic people, real enough.

    All in all it is a real good film about growing up and growing up with a tremendous challenge making it harder on you. I loved it, and even more so because I know what Thomas went through from personal experience.
  • This true to life film is a inside glimpse into a family that is, at its core, held together by the mother. Toni Collette plays the mother of an autistic son. Her performance is real and a driving force in the film. Her autistic son Charlie is a trial for the entire family and for his mother, whose life is so static and day in day out, she has come to accept Charlie for the person he is and she does this through simple love.

    At the center of the story is the other son, Thomas (Rhys Wakefield) and his burden of keeping his brother Charlie a secret and his further burdens of family life. When father Simon is away from the home it is Thomas who tries to run the household. Charlie is played by Luke Ford who gives a wonderful performance (remember him from The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor). Their family struggles with bouts of seeming normalcy and shocking bits of harsh truth and bitter reality.

    Thomas develops a strained relationship with a girl that is nice to him. This girl, Jackie (Gemma Ward) is striking and upon making it clear that she likes Thomas finds that he doesn't know how to deal with this. Both solid performances by Gemma Ward, a model, and Rhys Wakefield with his truthful, from the gut acting.

    Written and directed by Elissa Down, who has two autistic brothers in real life, obviously brings her experiences to bear and is innately able to bring pressure to this trouble torn family while bringing out some very emotional love. The winner of this film is Toni Collete whose acting through the turmoil is completely convincing. The acting together with a strong script really make this a movie worth seeing.
  • deax405 March 2008
    Elissa Down has used her personal experience of growing up with two autistic brothers, one of whom she describes as a "Rainman" character, and the other the inspiration for Charlie, the autistic and ADHD-afflicted brother of Thomas. The story is touching, sometimes side-splittingly funny, sometimes tragically upsetting, but ultimately uplifting. There isn't a weak performance, and as usual Toni Collette gives a believable portrayal of a mother whose strength holds her family together. Luke Ford is amazing as Charlie, reminiscent of Leonardo Di Caprio in "What's Eating Gilbert Grape?" It's good to see an Australian film that tackles such a difficult subject, and does so brilliantly.
  • agmor125 February 2008
    The Black Balloon opens with an awkward dance between filmmaker and audience, the latter trying to suss whether the able-bodied actor is playing an autistic character or is lazily impersonating the illness, all obvious ticks and embarrassingly broad gestures. Filmmakers often deploy mental disability for shallow manipulation (hello The Proposition), wherein the strings of the characterisation appear painfully obvious.

    It becomes apparent, however, that debut filmmaker Elissa Down has instead crafted a very fine and perceptive film, indeed. A semi-autobiographical, coming-of-age drama, The Black Balloon connects for its frank exploration of a difficult subject. Though she opts for every cliché imaginable- the ocker father (Erik Thompson), the tireless mother (Toni Collette), the wish-fulfilment girlfriend (model Gemma Ward), family strife- Down has weaved these seams for surprisingly effect.

    Sixteen year-old Thomas (Rhys Wakefield) is an impish, often self-involved hero, perpetually embarrassed by his autistic older brother, Charlie (astonishing newcomer Luke Ford). Though his pregnant mother is confined to bed rest, Thomas often shirks his responsibilities and becomes prone to intense bitterness. The Black Balloon darkens sooner than you would expect for an Aussie drama and honestly reflects upon the repercussions of Thomas' selfish behaviour.

    Down's direction is very strong and visual, especially in the moments of Thomas' embarrassment and anguish, culminating in a brutal sequence at the dinner table. The violence here is sudden and deserves full credit for its unexpected impact. Although heartfelt and touching, Down's film is never cloying and earns its warm moments through genuine pain and reflection.
  • the actors, they were astonishing... simply astonishing.

    this is a beautiful movie, humane, sentimental, TRUE and not "drama" actually. Why say its a drama? its reality! its LIFE!

    I don't have an autistic person in my family, but i know people who have, and I've met children who are autistic. Everybody should know, what this means, what its like for a family, and its members. but most of all, everyone should see, what a human being is capable of, the love, the care, the beauty, the sensitivity, the tolerance, the acceptance, but also all the negative sides, the ignorance, the desperate moments, the anger..

    the best movie .... I've seen in years. the only meaningful movie I've seen in years. bravo... to all the participants, the writers, the actors, ... bravo.
  • This film is an effective coming-of-age drama with the backdrop of autism. Erik Thomson plays a shy 16 year old who's constantly embarrassed by his severely autistic brother, an excellent Luke Ford. Toni Collette plays the pregnant mother and is solid as usual. The drama never becomes morose and there's a playful tone running through the film. Some events are predictable (like the taunting by class-mates and social awkwardness) but they are probably part and parcel of every coming of age drama. The film shows in harrowing detail what it's like to take care of someone with severe autism. Informative and worth watching.

    Overall 7/10
  • Warning: Spoilers
    The Black Balloon, portrays the youth of Thomas Mollison (Rhys Wakefield) under the direction of Elissa Down. Inspired on the book, also written by the director of the movie being approached, it touches one point not as much exploited as expected. Thomas is 15 years old, and lives with his family. His older brother, Charlie (Luke Ford) is autistic and his mother (Toni Collette) is pregnant of the third child. The movie pictures how Thomas deals with is Charlie, now that his mother can't look after him and it's up to him and his father to handle things, while Thomas meets Jackie (Gemma Ward), who'd make him expose his brother. The movie is good, it's not over dramatic nor boring, but the situation between Thom and Jackie brings this movie to close to American Sunday afternoon crap, which is quite a pity. In spite of that, The Black Balloon gives you a whole new idea of how the modern times face the mental ill and what is they're place in our houses. Deep and good for meditation, and that's it, 6/10
  • Much attention has risen from the production of this film by debut feature film director Elissa Down. With a notable essemble which include the likes of supermodel Gemma Ward, and prowess-much Toni Collette, a truly heart-warming and melodramatic storyline was intrinsic.

    Her portrayal of the autistic Charlie is not only imaginatively accurate but catches your sympathy and imbeds itself into your very own psyche, making it more harder to forget even after the film. Family ties are brilliant!!! Down accentuates this through her extremely generous and proficient use of the risky mis-en-scene and verisimilitudal lighting.

    It is a film of sheer simplicity. Although i found the intense connection between the two brothers, Charlie and Thomas, quite realistic, many have argues that Down's character analysis is quite mediocre. Seeing as it is her first movie as suppose to her previous short films, the film can be classified under the 'Beginner's' guide to film-making.

    Toni Collette is a professional actress like always, while Gemma Wark seem s bit too exotic of a flower for this type of environment. The Australian actors seem monotonous, and the script can be seen as flawed in the way the stroyline never tends to fluctuate.

    I give it a 7/10. It is a beautifully humble film but it just lacks the thrilling essentials. Better off next time, Elissa!
  • This is one of the best films i have ever seen... I recommend it to anyone. Never before have I ever been put on such a roller-coaster of emotion from mind-blowingly intense scenes to scenes which make me feel sick. Scenes that make me laugh and scenes which make me want to punch something. Rhys Wakefield portrays an adolescent teen amazingly. Which I found surprising looking at some of the acting skills from his fellow Home and Away actors (see Xavier in H&A, WHY IS HE THERE???).

    I saw the trailer and am a big fan of Toni Collette so decided to rent the film and was interested to see Rhys play a central character. The quality of directing took my breath away and I congratulate anyone involved in the production. I bought it straight away after renting and have watched it at least 5 times all with different people to show them one of the best films EVER MADE.
  • Australian filmmaker Elissa Down's THE BLACK BALLOON is a thoughtful film, down to earth with no apology in depicting a close-knit family of four (Toni Collette as Mom who is pregnant with a fifth member coming, Erik Thomson as Dad whose army life demanded constant moving, and two teenage sons: Luke Ford as Charlie the autistic one who is older in age but not in behavior, and Rhys Wakefield as baby-face Thomas in his uneasy growing teen period) - taking on living with autistic challenges everyday (sometimes by the moment).

    It is a coming of age story revolving around 17-year old Thomas, how he deals with the people around him: his brother Charlie, Mom and Dad, schoolmates, new friends and neighbors. There is more than meets the eye. Thomas seems to be battling inner conflicts, dilemmas he's reluctant to confront: "Will Charlie ever be normal?" he asked. "Charlie is not my problem," he shouted. Mom and Dad are both very patient and tolerant. The family's togetherness is very much held by a determined mother (again, brilliantly portrayed by Toni Collette) that would not 'give up' on her eldest, and Charlie is treated just like any child having his (normal) tantrums and (unpredictable) antics. As the film progresses, we feel for Thomas' frustration with Charlie, and welcome the relief of his delights with popular girl at school, Jackie (Gemma Ward gave an endearing portrayal) who has no problem hanging out with both Thomas and Charlie. She (from a single-Dad family) accepted Charlie with equal normalcy and seemed to fit into Thomas' family rather well.

    Like any family life, there are turn of events: Mom has to be 'confined to bed' at the hospital prior to birth of baby, so Dad and Thomas are left with the charge to handling Charlie's day to day needs - a learning curve that Thomas didn't expect. Through the ups and downs (Thomas' driving lesson with Dad in his car, Thomas' birthday family celebration 'blow out' with Jackie present), anguish and laughter (yes, that happens, if only we can laugh it off and let go more often), a new family member did arrive, and at Charlie's school performance, Thomas had his coming of age challenges and came through understanding his brother Charlie more. Director Down spares us no 'mushy' sentiments or Hollywood 'feel good' pressures - she delivered a bold and assured script (co-written with Jimmy Jack, telling like it is from her personal experience with two autistic brothers) and gave us a film we can appreciate the possible family warmth that can be steadfastly generated in challenging circumstances. "The Black Balloon" has hardly the hint of a debut feature from a talented filmmaker to watch, Elissa Down. The casting of Luke Ford and Rhys Wakefield paired as the two brothers is a godsend, indeed. Convincing performances all round.

    Enjoy also the interesting opening credits: at the corner of your eyes, you could notice there are 'extraneous' words or obvious name labels of things within each frame, e.g., grass, sky, wall, jeans, fence - as the credits roll on. Ah, it's for the sake of Charlie, the autistic brother and the rest of the family, too.
  • When i saw this movie i was in tears. I have a cousin who is autistic she is not as bad as Charlie the character though and she can be a handful and quite annoying at stages and i never ever saw it from the other point of view. That my other cousin well her older sister had to do the same things that Thomas had to do when she was young and when i look back upon it now she never complained she was alway the quite one and she was always there for her sister. So i now find it so upsetting to just figure it out now what she had to deal with on top of her parents divorcing and what so many other people out there who have autistic people in there families have to manage with and they don't seem to make a fuss about it. So it does make me more grateful for life. And after watching this movie it does make me see what my cousin is going through. Which reminds me they are coming up for Christmas so it will be a lot of laughs i cant wait to see them both.
  • JamesXabregas17 November 2008
    Warning: Spoilers
    Spoiler: sort of.....

    I was okay with this film until about the 20 minute mark when the autistic boy starts playing with his own feces. And it's not just one quick scene either. It carries on through a sequence that lasts a good five minutes.

    I'm just not that dedicated to Australian cinema.

    And even if you take that scene out, this thing really doesn't come across as a good advertisement for Australian film. It's the same old story we always see about a quaint little family drama that fundamentally bores the living day lights out of anyone who isn't Megan Spencer.
  • Being a clinical psychologist myself, I have to work with autistic children. And being a movie freak, I once decided to download as many movies as possible depicting mental illnesses. When looking for autism I happened to find some very brilliant ones, like Ben-X and this movie.

    So far I have found Black Balloon to be one of the best ones in which autism has been displayed as accurately as possible. Acting by Luke Ford (Charlie in the movie) as the autistic child is brilliant, never losing the actual flavor of autism. Reality is shown at its core and the unfolding of the character of Charlie's brother, Thomas has again been displayed brilliantly. The film never bores you and the intensity of relations that emerge in last few minutes thrill you in several ways. The way the character of Thomas has developed might not just be confined to such specific relationships. When interacting with such children, and especially when there is such a child in the family, such realizations are bound to happen to anyone involved.

    Surprisingly for therapists too. As a therapist too, one may expect a lot from such children to improve in therapy but the reality is not always fair. Anyone working with such children may get frustrated and exhausted by the repetitive failures and disappointments, but it should be kept in mind that success need not be quantitative, rather qualitative. A simple and minor change in behavior is enough to be considered of significance. Acceptance of the real condition of such children is the key to work successfully with them.
  • I seriously loved this family flick. Nothing less than entertaining and enjoyable! People who thought that this movie isn't worth watching should seriously get a life.

    Luke Ford's Formidable and Exquisite acting in this film not only makes you laugh but also touches you deeply! Rhys Wakefield has also lifted the movie in some way but the standout performer is Charlie Mollison a.k.a Luke Ford!

    The story is unique and heartwarming. "Black Balloon" is an underrated drama film which has mostly been unknown to the outside world, I loved it & Hope you do! Don't Miss It.
  • If love means accepting someone the way that they are and the way that they are not, the biggest test of that love may come if you must spend your life with an individual that is so disabled that they require constant attention to ensure their safety and that of others. Such is the case for the parents and siblings of Charlie Mollison (Luke Ford) in first-time director Elissa Down's The Black Balloon, the story of a family that has to muster all of its strength to cope with their disabled son Charlie. Charlie is now a teenager but his mental age is around two. Unable to speak or communicate with other than grunts and sign language, he is not only autistic but suffers from attention deficit disorder with hyperactive tendencies.

    Because his father Simon (Erik Thomson) is a soldier who must move often, Charlie and his family have recently moved to Sydney, Australia. This means a new period of adjustment for all, but mostly for fifteen-year-old Thomas (Rhys Wakefield), a shy teenager who has the additional task of looking after his brother while his mother Maggie (Toni Collette) is pregnant. Life for the Mollisons is not easy or pleasant and the director does not try to sugar-coat it. Students at the high school make disparaging remarks when Charlie's bus drops Thomas off at school, neighbors are upset enough to call the authorities when Charlie sits outside in the yard and pounds a wooden spoon while moaning, and Thomas has to run through the streets chasing Charlie when he bursts out the door in his underwear and barges into a stranger's house.

    Not much is shown of Thomas' life at school except for his swimming class, an activity that Thomas can barely manage. Things begin to brighten, however, when he meets Jackie (Gemma Ward) in swim class. Jackie takes an interest in him and is open and understanding about the hardships of his family situation, even though he feels like he must hide Charlie in his room when Jackie comes to the house. Jackie, however, is sympathetic when Thomas reacts with outbursts of uncontrolled anger after Charlie spoils his birthday party.

    Beautifully photographed by Denson Baker, The Black Balloon is no Rain Man or Gilbert Grape. There are no savants here. Having been raised with two autistic brothers, Downs' film is authentic and moving, a powerful, unsentimental cry from the heart filled with impeccable performances that allow us to feel every minute of the family's ordeal. Though the film may leave us shaken, it also can leave us wiser if we realize that regardless of the circumstances, our lives can be enriched if we learn to give of ourselves not out of condescension and duty but out of love.

    Grateful for Jackie's patience, Thomas begins to include Charlie in his life and attempts to forge a loving bond, providing the film's most touching moment when he participates with Charlie in a musical performed by Charlie's class. As he embarks on a journey of self discovery, Thomas knows that there will be times when he rejoices in seeing his brother happy and other times when he aches for his freedom. At times like these, he can only trust in the fact that "the universe is born of love and in love it remains", understanding that, in the words of Vivekananda, "All beings great or small, are equally manifestations of the divine, the difference is only in the degree of manifestation."
  • djs19506 December 2010
    Warning: Spoilers
    Elissa Down's The Black Balloon, a semi-autobiographical piece that layers the experience of autism within a suburban family over a more traditional coming of age story, is officially the first Australian cinema success story of the new year. Recently awarded the Glass Bear for Best Film at the Berlin Film Festival's Generation sidebar (essentially, films for a teenage market), Down's film is also the first wide-release Australian narrative of 2008.

    The Mollisons, a through-and-through Aussie family of mild, loving dysfunction have taken to a new lease of suburbia. Thomas Mollison (Rhys Wakefield) is doing the whole kid-in-a-new-town shtick, trying to fit in at school, playing for the attention of the prettiest girl in class, Jackie (Gemma Ward), when complications with his mother Maggie's (Toni Collette) pregnancy force him into a more active care giving role with his younger autistic brother Charlie (Luke Ford).Trying to negotiate adolescence under the shadow and responsibility of Charlie's public behavior, as he runs semi-naked around the neighborhood, uses the toilets of random houses, rubs excrement onto his bedroom floor and chews tampons of said girl, Luke struggles to accept Charlie, lurching between love, understanding, embarrassment and teenage resentment.

    Down's film's greatest strength is in its frank and unflinching observation of autism, in moments of abjectness and social confrontation, neatly underpinning and usurping the more expected clichés of its background boy meets girl story. The film feels like it crosses the line from a movie-lite or semi-tragic representation of autism, and into displaying it in a way which is awkward, uncompromised and unglamorous for the screen. The general public's reaction to Charlie slides from mild discomfort to overt disdain to pronounced horror as he produces the kind of socially awkward moments usually reserved for American presidential speeches, and The Black Balloon's writing and direction in this regard are generally successful in enabling the viewer to sympathise and understand the love, confusion, and frustration that encircles Charlie from his nearest and dearest.

    Luke Ford (strangely enough, soon to be seen on screen as the second lead in the next Mummy movie) ingratiates himself into Charlie successfully (apparently it was a role developed with more than a slight touch of method acting via in-character stints at local shopping malls) admirably, giving a real sense of Charlie's emotional range within the focus and constraints of his own attentions. But it is Gemma Ward as Jackie who, surprisingly, is the real acting life blood of this story. A former model, Ward is undeniably a screen presence, but is moreso charismatic, and negotiates a strong sense of girlish optimism and a more mannered kind of maturity to the proceedings in a similar way and function reminiscent of, say, Natalie Portman's performance in Garden State. Similarly, Rhys Wakefield anchors his role admirably between the two.

    But excepting the presence of an autistic child, the script here seems to be at pains to otherwise provide cliché upon cliché through its setup of its all too true blue Aussie family, from a battler mum (which Toni Collette does some admittedly impressive domestic scenery chewing with) to a battler Dad, to its broad stroke depictions of Australian culture (the Dad's hung up on his old car, the surf life saving classes in which the school content is pretty much exclusively built around). The background to its central fraternal relationship, one of amiably chaotic family life, is at best familiar and at worst uninteresting.

    And as a minor, slightly geeky, aside: there seems to possibly be some confusion in the scripting and the art department in regards to time setting with this one: weren't Stack Hats/spokey-dokeys and Super Nintendos a good ten years apart or so? The Black Balloon is ultimately a small story, one that runs the all too familiar gambit of coming of age, first love, growing into maturity and negotiating your own sense of youthful acceptance. But it describes those things in some unfamiliar territory through its frank and honest depiction of autism, and hence comes recommended.

    Nb. Just out of pure compulsiveness, it should also be noted that, weirdly, this is the third film in the last few years which resolves its drama by having the main character(s) humiliate themselves onstage in a song and dance number, as a means of providing solidarity at the sake of public embarrassment. The other two are About a Boy and Little Miss Sunshine, and they all star Toni Collette, who watches said performance plaintively from the sidelines. What gives? If she wants to get typecast into the world's most unlikely niche, she's on her way!
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Well I hate to say it,but another very average offering from the Australian film industry, once more gazing into Australians , own navel. How many times has this story already been told ? A claustrophobic, kitchen sink type tale of two brothers, one "normal" , one not so normal. This scenario has been played out numerous times before and on a couple of occasions much better than this one . Collette plays her usual, vaguely scruffy, vaguely down trodden female role she seems trapped within,again nothing new being said . This one should have been left on the shelf, for true Aussie film obsessives only, can't imagine many but the home market would rave over this plain fare, very parochial indeed.
  • You know the scene in "Peewee's Big Adventure" when he's rescuing all the animals in a burning pet store, but every time he runs past the snakes he gags because he has a deadly fear of them? Yeah well that was me every time I thumbed past "The Black Balloon" on my DVD shelf. I just dreaded the idea of watching it, for some reason. I suppose it was because I was afraid it would fall into the typical upsetting clichés about people with disabilities: kids taunting them, adults misunderstanding them and, in general, the world being a miserable place to them.

    I get that same feeling of dread when watching movies about cute puppies because you know the writer is going to kill the dog at the end for a cheap (but effective) emotional punch.

    Anyway, I'm happy to say that "The Black Balloon" is not one of those gratuitous heart clenchers. True, you can expect to see one or two disturbing, "taunting" scenes, but those scenes are poignant and well placed. The bulk of the film is upbeat, and although the character Charlie (afflicted with extreme autism & ADD) is shown to be a big difficulty in the lives of the Mollison family, the feeling I got wasn't "aw pity them" so much as it was "wow admire them".

    In case you didn't already know, this film was written & directed by Elissa Down who actually grew up with an autistic brother, and this film was her way of conveying the complex difficulties faced by a young sibling growing up in such a situation. The autistic person is not the focus, not like "Shine", "Temple Grandin" or other films that focus on the autistic person's plight in society, but rather, the focus is the younger sibling who faces a nearly impossible challenge of mixing with society with this terribly unpopular "secret", particularly in the early 90s (where this film is set) when autism was a very misunderstood phenomenon.

    Regardless of subject matter, this is a great film that illustrates the virtues of patience, humility and embracing the abnormal. Like the metaphor of the "black balloon", this film can apply to any situation where you are living with an exception to the rule: not a bright, cheerful balloon that everyone accepts but something unpopular--but a balloon just the same. It can apply to family members with Alzheimer's, cancer, AIDS, depression, you name it, and that's why this is a great film because it can apply to all of us. This is the kind of film with no villains, no contrived "good vs evil" storyline, no big conflict-climax-resolution (although there is a very powerful scene that everything turns on). This is a great film about normal characters reacting to abnormal situations. And even though my description makes it sound dry & boring, it's anything but.

    This film is mainly about the brother Thomas (Rhys Wakefield) growing up, joining a new school, finding & pursuing love for the first time and balancing all those inherently difficult experiences with the infinitely more difficult problem of how to accept his autistic brother Charlie (Luke Ford). There are some funny moments, some gross-funny moments, some charming moments, frightening moments and disturbing moments. And it all comes together with great acting all around in a quietly explosive story of how to exist with hardships. Like I said, subject matter aside, this film really inspired me to improve my ways in lots of other areas. Not sappy but just the right mix of reality & charm, "The Black Balloon" will LIFT your spirits. Haha get it? LIFT. Needless to say, comedy is one of those areas where I could stand to improve...
  • I've seen some dysfunctional families in my time, but Thomas REALLY has it rough. His mother is about to give birth and doesn't get off his case, his dad seems to take orders from a teddy called Rex, as well as being completely useless... and there's his brother Charlie. Who happens to be severely autistic. We're talking about constantly rocking back and forth, unable to communicate apart from with sign language, having random fits in public and rushing into total stranger's houses to use their bathroom facilities. To call him a 'handful' would be a gross understatement.

    Thomas wants out. He's fed up of doing everything around the house, his sibling embarrassing him in public and being bullied at school due to his 'situation'. Then, thanks in part to his brother's antics, he meets a lovely girl called Jackie, and things start looking up. Not only is she a beautiful, warm, compassionate human being, she can seemingly look past Charlie's bizarre behaviour and appreciate who he is. Even if he does steal tampons from her bag and suck on them...

    The key to the success of The Black Balloon is it really puts us in Thomas's shoes, and we suffer alongside him as he tries to make the best of a very stressful lifestyle. It's bad enough having to watch his brother 24/7, but when he starts acting up around people who don't understand his condition and they just look on with contempt, what can he do? He hates his brother due to the unwanted attention he attracts everywhere, and you can understand why he lashes out at Charlie several times. Only judge if you've worked a mile in their shoes, etc.

    The performances are out of this world, is Luke Ford (as Charlie) not disabled in real life? Every little detail, from the facial expressions, to the little tics he displays rings true. Note to Dustin Hoffman: THIS is someone with a serious handicap, not your card-counting, won't-go-on-plane has-difficulty-dancing social misfit from Rain Man. We dislike Charlie for the way he disrupts everyone's lives... but he can't help it, and he still shows enough during his quieter moments to demonstrate he can be very good-natured. Rhys Wakefield also effectively garners sympathy as the woe-be-gone Thomas, and Toni Collette as usual adds a touch of class as the mum of this chaotic brood.

    Filled with heartbreaking and inspirational moments, it's a treasure of a film... especially for those who have to live this way. If it teaches us anything, it's that should never give up on those you love. The more you put in, the more you'll get back in the long run... 8/10
  • I found this film on BBC iPlayer, reading the setting in the description as 'South Wales' and disregarding the 'New'.

    So expecting a slightly earlier rendition of 'Submarine', I was disappointed and then thrilled to be taken to a story down under.

    Thrilled because the story was moving and the story moved. The film does not get obsessed with its own themes of disability and otherness, but rather uses these to good effect as a backdrop for a more general coming-of-age journey.

    Sudden changes in tempo and dynamics between and within scenes make this journey a turbulent one, from quite lengthy chase scenes to placid family dinners culminating in difficult-to-watch violence. Human strength and weakness battle it out, struggling for balance.
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