The film's vision is neither a grim wallow nor falsely cheerful. It's compassionate but unblinking, and in the end we can't help but admire the genuine strength of how its characters accept their special challenge.
The blooming puppy love between Thomas and Jackie lends The Black Balloon a welcome strain of tenderness. Mr. Wakefield and Ms. Ward project the innocence of shy, sensitive young people for whom a tentative shared kiss is a very big deal.
The Black Balloon courses with a firsthand feel for languorous Aussie summers, the shifting scales of love and hate in sibling relationships, and the earned wit that helps families cope with difficult situations.