Sunday, December 7, 2008

Review - The Black Balloon

An aussie coming of age tale about a near sixteen year old, who longs for a normal life. His older brother, who suffers from autism, needs constant attention. With their mother bed ridden in her final month of pregnancy and father working long days on a local military base, Thomas is left as the only suitable caretaker for his autistic brother Charlie. Charlie's condition strains his relationship with Thomas, but with the help of his new girlfriend, Thomas might learn to accept his brother, regardless of his needs.

Director/writer Elissa Down creates in The Black Balloon, a stimulating and realistic look into an Australian family that has the responsibilty of caring for their austistic son, Charlie. Elissa Down's thrives in delivering a family where the dialogue, characters, and their relationships provide a vivid realism that is both heartfelt, mischevious and hysterical. The film deals with the inner-family dynamics quite well, showing the various relationships and interpretations of Charlie's disorder. The film however, spends a majority of the time from Thomas's perspective, who has not come to terms with his brothers autism and its impact on his adolescents.

The entire cast of The Black Balloon is very polished, Toni Collette and Luke Ford however, deliver standout performances that captivate and compell from start to finish. Collette plays Maggie Mollison, who is 8 months pregnant and on bed rest by doctors orders. Maggie's restless energy and endless compassion for Charlie's needs takes too much from her in the final stages of pregnancy and Collette in unfailing precision becomes the nuturing mother whose health has forced her unable to care for her son. Collette's scenes with Charlie (Luke Ford) are genuine and really provide a strong sense of Maggie's unyielding compassion for her son and his disorder. Toni Collette provides a broad range of human emotions that perfectly run from frustration to cheerfulness ultimately pointing to her as the matriarch and foundation of the at times very zany family.

Luke Ford masterfully plays Charlie Mollison, a wide-eyed childlike teen whose autism and ADD has drastically effected his speech, mental stability and social skills. Ford plays Charlie so naturally, one quickly forgets that he had just recently played Alex O'Connell in The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor. Ford's portrayal of an austistic teen never falters and quickly sets an uneasy tone to Charlie's screentime, similar to the on-edge lifestyle, the Mollison family faces on a daily basis with him. Charlie seems to teeter the line with his behavoir and at a moments notice, Charlie could either lose control or take off racing for no apparent reason. It is in these chaotic and dotty moments that Luke Ford excels, giving the viewer a complete spectrum of Charlie's behavior.

The responsibility that Charlie's brother, Thomas played by Rhys Wakefield, is faced with drastically effects him both emotionally and socially and both Ford and Wakefield's screentime together is very natural, drawing the viewers interest towards the two brothers relationship or lack there of. One of the most endearing moments of The Black Balloon, comes when Charlie and Thomas share a bubble-bath together after a recent fight and Thomas reminisces of the earlier years of their childhood. Luke Ford shows his brilliance in the role here, while Wakefield displays a range of confused emotions from a torn brother who is trying to cope with his brothers disorder. Rhys Wakefield is solid as the confused brother to Charlie, but thrives in his acceptance of his brothers disorder and as the unsure teen in a first-time relationship. Wakefield's budding relationship with Jackie Masters played by supermodel Gemma Ward is a memorable storyarc that stirs memories of first loves and the confusion of acceptance that can come with our families and their quarks. Ward delivers a pure performance as an Australian teen who teaches her new boyfriend compassion for his brother regardless of his disorder. Wakefield and Ward together provide a memorable and touching performance that is sure to rise a memory of that first relationship.

The Black Balloon is a enjoyable disfuctional family tale that provides both endearment and hilarity while flirting with disaster. Elissa Down who grew up with austistic siblings, provided real insight to the storytelling and performances resulting in a innocent and effective film that provided both realism and jovality to the family dynamic. The Black Balloon simply delivers a heartfelt story of a teen's struggle with his choas enducing autistic brother that real success comes in raw emotion and reality.