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The Black Balloon


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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

All Thomas wants is a normal adolescence but his autistic brother, Charlie, thwarts his every opportunity. Will Thomas, with the help of his girlfriend, Jackie, accept his brother?

Review

Would you be able to cope? That is the unspoken challenge laid down by The Black Balloon, a harrowing, unsentimental portrait of a middle-class Australian family whose oldest son has severe autism compounded by attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Would you find in yourself the seemingly infinite reserves of love and patience possessed by the Mollisons, the movie s itinerant, highly stressed army family who have just moved to the suburbs of Sydney? Maybe not. The Black Balloon, directed by Elissa Down, was inspired by her experiences growing up in a household with two autistic brothers, the younger of whom served as the model for Charlie (Luke Ford), a mute who communicates in sign language and heaving, wheezing grunts. When calm, Charlie is adorably playful and cuddlesome, but when agitated, which is often, he makes noises that assume a feral intensity. At his most intimidating, during uncontrollable tantrums, he becomes a desperate wild animal, flailing and spitting and biting. Mr. Ford, who was seen earlier this year as the hero s rambunctious son in The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, makes Charlie a character whose complexity transcends his disability; you can almost decipher the words he is unable to speak. Ms. Down s sympathetic alter ego is Charlie s slightly younger brother, Thomas (Rhys Wakefield), a shy 15-year-old whose love for Charlie is increasingly compromised by his embarrassment. As the new kid at his school, Thomas is something of a fish out of water himself; barely able to swim, he struggles to stay afloat during lifesaving classes. He is so ashamed of Charlie, who attends a school for the disabled, that when Jackie (Gemma Ward), a sweet, attractive girl his own age, comes calling, he futilely tries to keep him out of sight. The Black Balloon offers a wrenching portrait of the Mollison household. The boys exhausted mother, Maggie (Toni Collette), only days away from giving birth to a third child, refuses the bed rest ordered by her doctors. When she goes to the hospital to give birth, her husband, Simon (Erik Thomson), a gruff, good-hearted army officer, mistakenly imagines that the house can run smoothly while she is away. No sooner has she left than Charlie begins wreaking havoc. The scenes of Charlie running amok are agonizing. One afternoon he flees in his underwear and, with Thomas in frantic pursuit, dashes through the neighborhood and into a strange house to use the bathroom. In a supermarket checkout line he flops onto the floor and begins bellowing when Simon asks him to return some items to the shelves; eventually he has to be dragged out of the store screaming. At one point an angry neighbor summons child services to the Mollisons home. In the most repellent scene, Charlie is discovered in his room smearing his feces on the carpet and over his body. Thomas is expected to clean up the mess. His growing sense of being trapped by his brother s disability is evoked in moments when he anxiously listens to Charlie s noises and to the squall of the newborn through the door of his room. 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. But Ms. Collette s Maggie is the film s prime mover. This wonderful Australian actress, who hasn t a shred of vanity, virtually disappears into the complicated characters she plays, and Maggie is one of the strongest. With every forceful gesture and glaring look, Ms. Collette portrays Maggie as an indefatigable woman of heart and sinew who, through sheer determination, holds off chaos. --New York Times: REVIEW (Stephen Holden) 12-5-2008

Special Features

None.

Product Details

  • Actors: Toni Collette, Luke Ford, Rhys Wakefield, Erik Thompson, Gemma Ward
  • Directors: Eilssa Down
  • Format: Multiple Formats, AC-3, Anamorphic, Color, Dolby, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)
  • Studio: Terra Entertainment
  • DVD Release Date: March 23, 2010
  • Run Time: 97 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B003102JKU
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #106,735 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Customer Reviews

To my delight, this film is about acceptance to non-acceptance to acceptance again.
abookandabeach
The story follows their life but also deals with the daily challenges that a family faces when dealing with a child or brother with autism.
Amit Talpade
When I can laugh, cry, and feel like I just got a gift from watching a movie then I know it is A MUST SEE for everyone!
dina girl

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By JohninMaine on May 29, 2010
Format: DVD
This is not a tearjerker about a handicapped young man and his saintly family, thank goodness. It's the story of an Australian family rattling along like a train about to derail at any minute. A very honest, accurate portrait of life with a mentally handicapped teenager. It's a fun but serious story, often funny, moving and heartbreaking sometimes.

Toni Collette is wonderful and lovable as the mother!

The main character, Thomas, is a quiet teenager who has started at a new high school and spies a girl in his gym class. Beyond those challenges he has an older brother, Charlie, with fairly severe autism and ADD. Life at home is wild and unpredictable. When keys are accidentally left in the front door, Charlie opens it and runs down the middle of the street. He happens to be wearing only sneakers, underwear and his favorite monkey-ears hat. It's funny and frightening at the same, because he's obviously in danger of harming himself. Brother Thomas runs after him, and we get the feeling Thomas has probably been rescuing his brother for all of his life.

It's a very good story, the characters are fun to watch. All families should be blessed with the love, stamina and sense of humor that these folks have. But the film is never syrupy or preachy.

Personal note: I have a teenage son with autism. I would not recommend this movie to families who have a little child w/autism, because it would probably be very depressing. It's not possible to really predict what level of impairment an autistic child will have when they reach their teens. I just feel that this movie could easily add fear and stress to parents of, say, a Kindergartner with autism -- and those folks need only love and support!
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Mark Barry TOP 500 REVIEWER on April 7, 2009
Format: DVD
**You will need a multi-region player to play this DVD**

As 50-year old parents of an 18-year Autistic son, the better half and I sat down to watch "The Black Balloon" with an open mind. She thought it was honest, true to life and moving - I thought it was brutal, clinically exploitive and deeply hurtful to those of us who actually have to live with - and grow old with - this difficult condition.

First up - Autism doesn't sell - so the cover of the DVD slyly tries to pan it off as a teenage love story - when most of movie is dominated by the lead character's Autistic brother whose inappropriate, but unintentional outbursts make life for him, his parents and their family - a living hell.

This is an Icon Production - Mel Gibson's company - and I've found his movies bludgeon you over the head in order to extract emotion. If he can't gore it up, he'll hurt it up. As other reviewers have pointed out, the brother's behaviour is wild (rubbing excrement into the carpet, punch outs at home, tantrums in supermarkets) - some of which does happen, but most doesn't. No experienced parents would take their son to such situations precisely because it will precipitate such behaviour - these film parents are conveniently clueless - and that just doesn't wash. Then there's the horrific cruelty of the Australian school kids and neighbours - again all of it so over the top as to beggar belief.

But the worst scene is after a particularly horrific home incident, the special needs brother Charlie (played by Luke Ford) supposedly apologises in sign language to his brother Thomas (played by Rhys Wakefield) - this just wouldn't happen.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By BLACKBOXBLUE on January 17, 2011
Format: DVD
I've been watching more and more Australian films over the last few years, mostly because there are a lot of great actors coming out of Australia and when I look into their body of work, I come across their films from there. After discovering young Aussie actor Rhys Wakefield in the trailer to the upcoming film Sanctum (2011), I checked out his recent short film Clearing the Air (2009), and also added his film The Black Balloon (2008) to my Netflix queue.

What I was struck by more than anything else while watching this small foreign indie film today, was the amazing care and craftsmanship that obviously went into it. The movie starts with an incredibly creative opening credit sequence set to good Australian pop/rock music. The graphics for the titles are really cool, creative, and unusual in the way they are presented, which I really enjoyed and felt inspired by. Australian director Elissa Down wrote and directed this film based on her own family and childhood. The Black Balloon is basically a coming-of-age film, following in the footsteps of so many before it, but adding a new unique tale to the collection.

The story centers around Thomas, played very well by Wakefield, and his family. Toni Collette plays the typical "weird" mother that we've become accustomed to her playing in The Sixth Sense (1999), Little Miss Sunshine (2006), and About A Boy (2002). And Luke Ford plays Charlie, Thomas' severely autistic brother. Having a "spastic", as kids love to call Charlie, presents a lot of challenges for Thomas and his family. Thomas is a teenager who of course feels the pressure of fitting in and just wants a normal brother, a normal family, and a normal teenage life.
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