The Black Balloon Reviews
Overall, the structure of the piece is textbook stuff and it ends in a way that an audience who invests in such a story deserves, but the true strength of 'The Black Balloon' is that it is a testament to the uncompromising power of unconditional parental love and the bond between siblings. Charlie's school performance also presents the aesthetic similarities between those with and without autism; a powerful message presented with childlike innocence. Quite simply, a gem of a coming-of-age story that shines brighter than most of its contemporaries.
I can relate more to this movie then most people because I am only a year older then Thomas and also have a brother with severe autism. The scenes with Charlie are extremely accurate and represent the hardship of autistic family members well. Luke Ford is a brilliant actor and represents autistic people perfectly.
This will not be a problem to most people but I personally found Thomas to be partially unlikable. He's not a terrible person, but he still hasn't come to terms with Charlie's disability and at times wishes that "he were normal". Most people will feel empathy for Thomas, but since I had come to terms with my brother's disability long before I was 15, it seems cruel to me.
The side characters, like Thomas' parents and his love interest Jackie, are great characters. Jackie is the most interesting character of the film. She has a sense of humour and can understand the problems that Thomas and his family go through. She is, for the most part, a very light-hearted and entertaining character, but can be serious when she needs to.
The movie overall handles the subject well as a dramedy. There are some obvious comedy scenes and some obvious dramatic scenes, but there are also scenes which are a strange mix. Sometimes you won't know if you should be laughing or feeling sad, everyone's reaction will be different, and I think that's what makes this film so special. It doesn't tell you how to feel about certain scenes and occurrences, you have to figure it out yourself, which may make you feel uncomfortable, but that's exactly what this film is best at.
Overall, The Black Balloon is a beautiful piece of cinema flawed only by some one-dimensional side characters and one particularly cheesy scene near the end, but the careful direction, great acting and an amazing script is more then enough to make up for it. This is definitely not a film for everybody, it is very confronting, but speaking from true experience, this film is both accurate and brilliant.
Thomas (Rhys Wakefield) has just started at a new high school. His father (Erik Thomson) 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.
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 they make films like this one, that's sure to change.
I liked it.