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.
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. It is precisely because of Autism that Charlie would never make this cognitive leap - and in the real world - it's in this maddening knowledge - that lies so much hurt for siblings. Your brother doesn't progress - your sister doesn't get any better - and most people - including the authorities - couldn't give a toss. But this is a film - and after all that battering-ram stuff - the makers must offer you some hope...
Autism has been used in movies before - and to some good effect; "Mercury Rising" with Bruce Willis and most famously Dustin Hoffman as the Savant in "Rain Man". But these were simplistic versions of the condition without any of the really nasty self-injurious stuff and effect on the family. "The Black Balloon" seems to want to bludgeon you over the head with only the gross stuff- and then somehow arrive at a magical point of tolerance at the end. The real world, however, is slightly different.
It's not all grim of course - it isn't. There's a moment of extraordinary tenderness and one of the best 'growing up' sexy scenes I've ever seen. The gorgeous Gemma Ward plays Jackie (legs as long as the M1 motorway and a face the camera adores) who fancies the slightly odd she suspects brave Thomas (constantly defending his brother). Along with all the other swimmers, they are at a school safety exercise lesson lying down by the poolside; she leans over him in her dripping swimsuit to administer mouth-to-mouth resuscitation as per her instructor. He has his eyes shut - supposedly drowned. She has to apply mouth-to-mouth - up and down - blowing in air. The way the sunlight catches her wet hair - the drops falling on him - the proximity of such loveliness - the lips that nearly touch, but can't because people are watching - it's beautifully done - really ace stuff...
Also on the up side is Luke Ford's performance as the Autistic Charlie - his mannerisms are very good and at times uncomfortably accurate - our boy displays some of the same. Erik Thompson and Toni Collette are gripping as the parents trying to cope and keep their family together.
I'm not adverse to a difficult watch worth the difficulty, but I found this movie strangely exploitive - and for all the wrong reasons. I'll admit that anything that hurts children - especially special needs children - makes me wince and rage - so perhaps my opinion of the movie simply can't be anything other than biased. My wife thought it was brilliant - finally exposing the pain and difficulty parents of special needs children have to go through. I on the other hand would smash Mel Gibson over the head with a mallet...
One review on the DVD box tells us the movie is "...life-affirming..." and "...a sheer delight..." Absolute balls.
There are those of us out there in the real world who actually have to live with - and grow old with - this maddening condition - and I wish filmakers would give that some thought from time to time.
Is it brave or is it bollox. Make up your own mind folks. As ever, one man's Heaven is....
on 4 June 2009
Some reviews of this brilliant film have suggested that it's unrealistic, overly chaotic, and that Mum's (Tony Collette's)attitude is too falsly positive - wrong!!!! My autistic son is much higher functioning than Charlie in the film, and much easier to handle. BUT the day to day scenarios are spot-on accurate. Tony Collette also reflects brilliantly what it is like to be Mum to someone like Charlie. If you don't stay relentlessly positive, you'd be jumping off a bridge - you can't wallow in self-pity because the problem is just not going to go away, you've got it for life. The reflection of the sibling relationsip is also very accurate - my two daughters have a strong, affectionate, protective relationship with their brother, but society sometimes makes life as difficult for them, as it does for him.
A superbly acted film, that has been well researched, and deserved all the awards it got.
"The Black Balloon" is an Australian drama about the family and school life of a teenage boy called Thomas who has a severely autistic older brother called Charlie, a heavily-pregnant mother (played by Toni Collette, brilliantly as always), and a rather weird Army father who seems to inexplicably communicate via a teddy bear called Rex some of the time. At the start of the film the family has moved to a new house, so Thomas has the challenge of a new school in addition to this.
Most of the plot concerns his developing relationship with Jackie, a girl from school, and with him coming to terms with his brother's condition and how badly it impacts the whole family, particularly once his mother has to go into hospital on bedrest as a result of her pregnancy (Charlie requires constant supervision or poo-smearing etc is the result...). As other reviewers have said, there are pretty strong similarities to "What's Eating Gilbert Grape", but it is by no means a carbon copy (the protagonist in this film is a great deal younger than Gilbert, for a start, and whereas Gilbert's father is dead and mother isn't physically able to look after Arnie, in this movie the parents actually do the bulk of the caring, which I felt shifted the focus enough to make it distinct).
I really enjoyed the film, and felt that it was probably a pretty realistic depiction of what a young man in that family setting would go through (slightly unrealistic romance with perfect girl notwithstanding!). It was funny in parts, sad in others, and generally met my expectations of an Australian film (I like Australian films. A lot. "Amy" starring Rachel Griffiths is another very good one, as is "Cosi" with Toni Collette, although I'm not sure either are available in this country). Recommended.
Of what I've learnt, the director of this film has based Black Balloon on his own life experiences. And it shows. To get it off my chest straight away, the strongest point to compliment about the Black Balloon is how personal the film is. Through every second of the film, you can tell the heart that's been pushed into it.
Black Balloon isn't your typical feel good movie. Most of the film is actually pretty harrowing to watch, and although the movie ends like a feel good movie, the result definately isn't happy. For anyone looking for a film anything like Rain Man, you should look away. It's a pretty dark view at autism, compared to most films. You've got the occassional moments that are shocking enough to make you want to look away.
It's pretty emotional at times, it's mostly helped by a great cast (Toni Colette, amazing as always), but there was one big niggle I had with the genuine feel of the film. The female characters seem very unrealistic. In hectic situations these female characters are going through, they seem a little too calm, while all the male characters act realistically to what's going on (screaming and fighting). The females are all perfect, you have the perfect girl who's beautiful, smart, kind and you have the mum who remains completly calm even during the worst situations. Personally if I was going through what they were going through, I'd be on the floor sobbing, crying and going through suicidal thoughts. It just didn't convince me that the female characters were real.
All in all, a decent film. I'd recommend it, but it's not for everyone.
Like Schindler's List, made back in 1993, this is a film that needed to be made!
In graphic detail, The Black Balloon gives a disturbing and emotional yet compelling and beautiful roller-coaster ride through the life of the family (particularly the brother) of a teenager who has severe autism combined with A.D.H.D. (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder).
The film stars Rhys Wakefield who played Lucas Holden in the Aussie soap "Home And Away" as Thomas, the teenage brother of Charlie who has A.S.D. (autistic spectrum disorder) & A.D.H.D. and the film highlights some of the highs & lows of life living with Charlie.
Thomas befriends a girl at school called Jackie (Gemma Ward) and is scared of losing her because of Charlie (yes, we all know how cruel teenagers can be!). But are his fears justified or groundless? You'll just have to watch the film and see!
As can be expected from such a film, there are moments of fairly graphic violence, despair, heartbreak, touching tenderness, romance and comedy. This is film that will have you both laughing and crying as well!
I found the film very uncomfortable to watch at times and yet very compelling and beautiful as well! Like I said, a real roller-coaster - but a real heart-warmer at the same time.
The production crew have obviously done their homework thoroughly on this film because my wife whose work as a local authority advisor for families with A.S.D. and A.D.H.D. says this is a very fair representation of what life is like for the family of someone with autism & A.D.H.D. And Luke Ford who plays Charlie deserves an Oscar for his performance!
In conclusion, this is a film everyone ought to watch although few will feel comfortable with as it deals with issues that those unaffected by autism & A.D.H.D. would feel are best left unaired. I strongly disagree - and I think you will too after watching The Black Balloon.
I was interested in this film, most particularly, as I am a mother of an autistic child who has ADHD and believe me it is an emotional rollercoaster.
I was very moved by the film and I see in the characters much of what I experience in my own life, with my other children, like my sons brother's and sister, as in the resentment of the brother getting the attention and it moved me to tears a few times, but only because I feel it hit a few raw nerves and the fear of meeting new situations with an autistic child. I feel that the producers of the film did a lot of background work and it paid off in a very realistic production.
Toni Collette is an wonderful actress and all credit to her for playing the role well, but from an experienced point of view, her character was a little to calm. Having an autistic child takes its toll on the ENTIRE family and just because you are the childs mother, does not mean you are perfectly calm and well balanced all the time. It is an extremely stressful condition for any family member to deal with and I feel that this was not shown entirely truthfully in her character. We try our best as mothers, but sometimes we crack too and I think this wasn't shown enough. Also, the fathers character was depicted a little to weakly and I do not feel it was particularly handled well, with him falling apart more than the mother... I have personal experience and to be honest I think fathers tend to be the calmer ones!
Luke Ward was very convincing in his role as Charlie and gave quite a compellingly realistic performance! Should awards be given to these little known films he'd deserve one for his acting on this one! Rhys Wakefield, as Thomas, also gives a notable performance.
The film on the whole is a bit Rain man, a bit Gilbert Grape, but stands on its own merits for incorporating a bigger family aspect.
It is a heavy film to watch and is not light entertainment by any means, although there are some light hearted moments that will make you smile, but if you want a good dramatic movie, that will stir your emotions this is perfect.
on 19 December 2012
was a bit disappointed in this film. After reading the notes about it online, I thought it would be a more in depth, and more detailed production about family life with autism. In fact it ended rather abruply, didn't seem to have much of a holding storyline, and was really about the other brother's school romance...Didn't pay much for this DVD so was glad really. Would not recommend or watch it again.
on 20 January 2009
I'm no teenager at 44 years of age and I found this to be an absolute gem of a film, one of the best I've seen in a long time along with my other Vine selection this month (Transsiberian). Although an unusual subject matter, I had no expectations of it other than Toni Collete would give a brilliant performance no matter what the material. She did, but what surprised me is that she wasn't outstanding as the whole family were just as good, notably Luke Ford who portrayed the autistic Charlie. Credit must also go to Rhys Wakefield who is the other son, Thomas, coping and also struggling to come to terms with his dysfunctional family life compounded by the upheaval of moving to a new suburban neighbourhood, new school, a sympathetic but understanding new girlfriend and his mother's pregnancy and the new born child. He is a character tormented by his guilt that he just wants a normal brother and a normal life. The acting from the two boys is very convincing and worthy of the Australian equivalent of an Oscar. I think they call them a Bruce.
Black Balloon is an unsentimental and uncompromisingly honest study of a close knit family dealing with their own particular highs and lows over a relatively brief period in their lives. They are fundamentally a happy family who have accepted and learnt to cope with their situation and adapted to the constant demands for attention above and beyond most families call of duty. Their lives are tinged with the usual gamut of emotions;sadness,guilt,anger and joy. This film voyeuristically draws you into their world and you can't help but feel some of their experiences. There is fun in this film notably when Charlie escapes from the house and is chased by his brother, both of them barely dressed and Charlie decides to enter a stranger's house and use the toilet whilst one of the occupants is in the shower. The person in the shower eventually becomes Thomas' girlfriend who comes to be accepted and embraced into their family.
The Australian setting is picturesque canvas on which to paint this rich tapestry. It somehow reminded me of my 1970's with the colours, the house decor and the sunshine when the world was a very different place than it is today. The final scene of the two brothers together in the bath was a heart-warming ending and I left the family contented that despite everything I'd witnessed, it was going to work out for them and that it had been a privilege to have been a hypothetical part of their life.
The Black Balloon was a revelation. It's small Australian indie film that borrows from What's Eating Gilbert Grape, and has amazing performances from Toni Collette, Rhys Wakefield and Luke Ford.
The film follows Thomas (played by Wakefield) as he adjusts to moving to a new town while coping with a disabled brother who suffers from autism and ADHD. His Mother is pregnant, and Thomas must help out with his brother's care when she is put on bed rest. On top of all this, he is struggling his way through first love with Jackie (Gemma Ward).
The Black Balloon is funny, heartbreaking, intelligent and absorbing. Just like Gilbert Grape, Thomas struggles with the anger he feels toward his brother and himself for feeling such a way. I was completely absorbed with their world and loved the quirky nineties nostalgia the film has.
Toni Collette is outstanding in everything she does, and this is no exception. I was very surprised by Rhys Wakefield, Home and Away never showed his potential as a good actor and I'm really excited to see how he develops. Luke Ward is so compelling as the autistic Charlie that it's hard to believe that he's acting.
See the film. Its why small films should be made.
The Black Balloon is a likeable but somewhat lightweight rites of passage number from Australia that throws Autism into the mix. Rhys Wakefield is teenager Thomas who just wants an ordinary life but is constantly thwarted both by the problems of being an army brat constantly on the move with his father's new postings and of having an autistic brother Charlie who's prone to break into neighbours houses to use the toilet if left unsupervised.
It's obviously a semi-autobiographical number - director Elissa Down has two autistic brothers, and there's definitely the feeling of personal experience rather than mere good intentions to the picture: most of the drama comes from the main character's exacerbated sense of being left outside at times because of the attention his brother needs and by the social stigma of having to take the `looney's bus' to school with his charge. Certainly Luke Ford is convincing enough as the autistic Charlie to convince at first that they've used a real sufferer and Down avoids hitting the audience over the head - while there are uncomfortable scenes such as a tantrum at a supermarket checkout that makes everyone else in the store retreat silently into themselves rather than get involved, there's also a lot of nicely observed humour, such as teachers proving wildly inadequate to the task of breaking up a fight that breaks out at a bus stop or, in one particularly gross out moment, Charlie finding something to eat that he really shouldn't in Thomas' girlfriend's bag.
Yet while it's refreshing that it's partially because of Charlie, the cause of much of his own social awkwardness, that Thomas gets to meet cute with his girlfriend, there's also something a bit too predictable and wishful thinking about the way Thomas' life starts to improve - naturally his girlfriend is the prettiest girl in his lifesaving class and she accepts Charlie almost immediately without any real difficulty. But if that seems at times a bit too cookie-cutter predictable, it's also because Down chooses to accentuate the positive rather than go for ponderous drama. Charlie may be a trial and a high maintenance one at that, but he's part of a well-drawn genuinely loving family (both Toni Colette, as the pregnant mother, and Erik Thomson, as the father, convince completely). Yet at the end of the day there's a bit of a feeling that the film doesn't really go anywhere even if it is a much more enjoyable trip than you were expecting.