The Black Balloon Directed by: Elissa Down Cast: Toni Collette, Rhys Wakefield, Luke Ford, Gemma Ward Running Time: 1 hr 35 min Rating: PG-13
32nd Portland International Film Festival Country: Australia English?: Yes
Plot: Thomas Mollison (Rhys Wakefield) moves to a new town with his family, including pregnant mother Maggie (Toni Collette) and an autistic brother (Luke Ford). He desperately wants to fit in at his new high school, but finds it hard. Having a brother on the "spastic" bus doesn't help ... until he befriends Jackie Masters (Gemma Ward), an alarmingly beautiful girl with a compassionate heart.
Who’s It For? A coming of age movie for people who are sick of coming of age movies (like me). Also, anyone who every really wanted a Super NES.
The characters in Black Balloon just float along until Thomas meets Jackie, a kind, yet super hot local girl. He's in love (or maybe lust) but has a hard time reconciling his home life with his school life. When Jackie accepts Charlie for who he is, Thomas begins to see Charlie, and maybe himself, in a new light. From then, the film shows the twisty road Thomas takes to find peace with himself and his brother.
Terrific performances by the whole cast really help this coming of age story about two brothers, one of whom has autism. Thomas feels trapped between his desire to have a normal life and his love for his brother, Charlie. But Charlie constantly acts differently, and Thomas doesn't know how to rationalize his family and school lives. Wakefield makes Thomas a hugely sympathetic character. He's a teenage boy unable to totally understand or articulate his desires, but made miserable by them. Ford amazes as Charlie, I thought for a second he may actually be autistic, but he's not. You can tell why he won the Australian Film Institute's Best Supporting Actor award. Collette pulls the whole thing together with her fierce portrayal of Maggie, a mother who's passionate love holds her family together.
When Hollywood makes a film about someone with a disability, it tends to be grandiose and tragic. This film focuses on the day to day mundane aspects of living with someone who is different. Down made a beautiful film about character growth. The pleasure in this film comes from watching a family who love one another try to make good decisions. It's a totally simple idea, but one that must be hard to pull off well, since you don't see a lot of films where it works. Collette, Wakefield and Ford all give really great performances. By the end, I loved them and their family.