- Story -
Charlie is a severely autistic teenager who finds it difficult to communicate with his family and others. The family are under strain trying to cope with his needs while also having other adolescent teenagers growing up in the same household, including his brother Thomas.
Thomas finds it difficult to deal with his brother, being made fun of by his peers at school - he resents his brother but will he ever manage to truly connect with him and accept him? you'll have to watch the movie to find out.
- Thoughts & Opinions -
This is rather a gritty and difficult, or more uncomfortable film to watch for the way it realistically portrays (as mentioned above) an autistic adolescent, Charlie, who is mocked by his peers and finds it difficult to communicate and cope. Its his brother, Thomas, that the movie mainly focuses on, his struggles to deal with him and respond to those who make fun of him. It shows the strain that the family are in, trying to bring up their children alongside him, when its hard to leave him alone without something dangerous potentially taking place.
The movie seemed very realistic and the characters were well portrayed, you can't help but feel some sympathy for Thomas who has to keep looking after Charlie, sorting out his messes which he resents when he's needing his own time - clearly this family really need some respite, although when officials come around after their reported for an incident involving Charlie, they very much resent them putting their nose in their families business. The mother is the most under strain and she lashes out at times, so the family dynamic isn't great. This movie felt quite documentary-like, though really its a drama. Like I say it seemed pretty realistic to me and it may well challenge the way you view or talk about people affected by this condition. When it comes to autism, there is a spectrum and people can be affected in different ways, some people may only have a mild(ish) form of it while others are more severely affected (if I understand it right?) and in this case, Charlie has a rather severe form of it, as well as having ADHD, as is mentioned to the officials in one scene. There are some scenes which make for particularly uncomfortable viewing, so this movie certainly won't appeal to everyone. Its set in Australia and obviously all the characters are Australian with some somewhat thick Australian accents, not that I'm against Australians at all but thats perhaps worth mentioning, just for reference. I wouldn't say that attitudes to such a somewhat taboo subject like autism is much different there than it is here though.
In the movie Thomas has a romantic interest in a fellow student at his school called Jackie, who tries to communicate with Charlie and see past the obvious things that other kids mock him and their family for, which was nice to see. There is an awkward scene when Charlie takes something personal off Jackie which sets alarm bells ringing but it also lead to a funny line but I can't really elaborate or I'd spoil it.
This isn't by any means a fast paced or visual effects based movie, there isn't much action or anything like that, so as I say it certainly won't appeal to all, yet it felt like a somewhat important movie to watch, its a good movie to make you think about those with severe learning difficulties and may interest those who have to care for such people maybe?. The performances are all decent and I felt that the ending was quite touching, so I quite liked the movie in that sense - I didn't feel it dragged on and on and I didn't feel particularly fidgety or keen to change channels which is always a good sign, so I'd say its a pretty decent movie, it just won't be everyones 'cup of tea', so to speak. The subject covered was handled pretty sensitively I think and I think its always good when previously rather taboo subjects, those that are tended to be swept under the carpet so to speak, are brought to light - this is a relatively new movie dating from 2008 I believe, so its good to know that filmmakers are tackling such things. I didn't feel that this was particularly sensationalist or anything like that, so I think it was pretty good.
- Would I Recommend It? -
Yes, in terms of the characters and performances and the general competence script wise, I think this is a decent movie, although it certainly won't appeal to everyone but for what it is, its a good movie and if it interests you then I'd say you should give it a watch. Its not necessarily a particularly enjoyable movie as such but it handles its subject well I feel and seemed pretty realistic to me anyway.
Thanks for reading my review, I hope you found it useful and thanks for any and all r/r/c's
Star - Toni Collette
Certificate - 15
Run Time 97 minutes
Genre - Dromedy
Country - Australia
Jackie Masters: Close your eyes, what do you see?
Thomas Mollison: Black.
Jackie Masters: Look harder.
Autism is often portrayed as a bit of cliché in film and television, punters fed the popular misconception that autistics are often above average intelligent savants capable of impressive mathematical and memory feats. In reality most autistics are anything but as they are unable to be properly schooled and often suffer from hyper active conditions and so not good learners, sticking to actions and routines that make them feel secure, why they are so good at those things. The Black Balloon, an emotionally pleasing Aussie drama, is the first film I have seen to portray an autistic as that low IQ disruptive character they know doubt mostly are. You don't see many autistics in everyday life as they are kept behind closed doors due to the chaos and shame bought to families. Middle-class parents with disruptive kids often claim their children are on the low end of the autistic spectrum or suffer with ADD to avoid responsibility for an average intelligence child that may not be that clever and so no university, the middle-class right-of-passage, in some cases even getting their kids extra marks in exams by claiming they have some sort of disability. Autism diagnosis has gone up 600% in twenty years. In reality having an autistic child is a real strain on families and relationships and anything but a romantic movie, this films point.
Rhys Wakefield ... Thomas Mollison
Luke Ford ... Charlie Mollison
Toni Collette ... Maggie Mollison
Erik Thomson ... Simon Mollison
Gemma Ward ... Jackie Masters
The Mollison's are moving again, an Aussie military family and the owners of lively autistic son Charlie (Luke Ford) Mollison, two big reasons why they can never settle, mom Maggie (Toni Collette) expecting their third child and so extra stressed. 15-year-old Thomas (Rhys Wakefield) is normally on the end of his often uncontrollable big brother's antics and so also living a life of responsibility he never expected or wanted, amongst Charlie's bad habits pooing on the floor and smearing it on himself when unattended.
Although Thomas is being picked on at his new school in the leafy Sydney suburbs, he soon falls for aloof and interesting pretty blonde Jackie (Gemma Ward), but only from a distance, Jackie soon to meet Charlie, although not how she expected, Thomas chasing Charlie down the street in his underpants and into Jackie's bathroom, where she is showering.
As Thomas gets to know Jackie the rest of the school finds out Charlie is his brother and the teasing stepped up a few rungs, resulting in Charlie having a freak-out on the way to special school, so Thomas having to take him to the special school on the special school kid's bus. Can it get any worse? But as Thomas and Jackie near their first kiss, stealing stolen moments between their time with Charlie, little brother seems to be growing away from big brother as he clearly cramps his style, resulting in a big bust up at home and dad (Erik Thomson) having to pull them apart when blood is drawn. The family is battered and bruised by Charlie's condition but not broken. But can their stressful brotherly love be rekindled as Thomas coming of age and need to break the chains of Charlie is beginning to break the family apart.
Thomas Mollison: Dad, do you ever wish Charlie was normal?
Dad Mollison: All I know is he's my own, and you're weak as piss if you don't look after your own'.
Some critics say the film is not realistic but that, for me, is the point, they, or we, unable to know what autistic are really like because the autistics often hidden away so we never find out about how they really behave and the dramas and pains the family unit go through, the real point of the movie. It's the same as locking away pensioners with dementia and why no one really wants to recognize the size of the problem, especially the NHS. Out of sight, out of mind.
The film tackles the difficulties through the eyes of a somewhat selfish brother because the parents have already done their fare share of the worrying and hard work to get this far and so no emotion for the viewer to be had there. I think that's the dynamic that makes it works and why the independent film festivals liked it.
As the subject matter is tricky and the teen love story peripheral it only did $5 million world-wide and half that in Australia. The acting is super stuff in that offbeat Aussie way that makes their films so quirky and enjoyable. The color palette and the films obvious quirky style is also pleasing to the eye, Luke Ford brave and impressive playing the volatile Charlie. Neighbors graduate Rhys Wakefield is the films token blue-eyed dreamboat totty for the teen audience falsely teased in here and Toni Colette as brilliant as ever as the stoic mum.
It's pitched as a romantic comedy but in truth it's really about family and the ties that bind. If we were totally honest we wouldn't all pick the families we live with and if we could walk away guilt free many would, and have. In true Aussie filmmaking style this movie manages to get the family dynamic contradiction spot on so Thomas growing feelings for Jackie drain the same emotions away from Charlie.
Time has been spent on making the film look more than it is in its claustrophobic suburbia and appears not too Australian, considering. Often foreign filmmakers can get nervous and try to appeal to a wider international audience by indulging in cliché and 'landmark bingo', happily no lingering shots of the Sydney Harbor Bridge or Opera House here. The Director has kept the film in natural settings to give the families struggle more authenticity when it clashes with the outside world and on the whole a thoughtful and gently funny and emotional 90 minutes because of.
Imdb.com - 7.4 /10 (4,245 votes)
Metacritc.com - 68% critic's approval
Rottentomatos.com - 88% critic's approval
LA Times - 'This unblinking family drama packs a visceral punch. Thomas' journey toward acceptance is blessedly free of noble lessons and filled with real people'.
Hollywood Reporter -'Young love triumphs in a terrific Australian indie that deals with autism in an authentic, unsentimental way'.
The Guardian -'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 Times - 'At its sharpest Elissa Down's feature directorial debut is guided by intense, rough-edged emotional swings that feel authentically alive, even when the script settles for tidiness'.
Arizona Star -'The outlines are broad and obvious, and Thomas such a bore, that The Black Balloon loses air'.