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.
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....
"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.
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.
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.
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.
on 6 February 2009
`The Black Balloon' is the coming of age story of a boy in his mid-teens named Thomas Mollison who moves into a new home (and school) in Melbourne with his family. His brother Charlie is autistic (a phenomenal performance by Luke Ford) and Thomas finds himself frustrated and annoyed at some of his antics, even though he loves him really. Charlie gets in the way of Thomas's relationship with a girl from school called Jackie (played by the luminescent Gemma Ward) and eventually causes Thomas to explode with anger.
Charlie is not a high-functioning austistic person like Dustin Hoffman's Raymond in `Rain Man'. I've met several boys like this in my life (my sister used to attend a special school), and I feel qualified to say that it is literally impossible to tell Luke Ford is acting as his portrayal is so realistic. In fact all of the performances are excellent, and Toni Collette is her usual dependable self.
You've got to hand it to the Aussies for delivering a down to earth depiction of life with an autistic sibling. It's never mawkish or unnecessarily sentimental; not even when Thomas's dad explains the reason why they were given Charlie was because God decided they were a strong enough family to cope with him. In a Hollywood film this would have been difficult to listen to without vomiting all over the dog, but it seems a right and proper sentiment in this movie.
Watch the film until the very end - it features one of the more bizarre credits I've ever seen for a `Breast feeding double'!
Set in Australia at the time that the super Nintendo had just been brought out and cassettes were still the only way to record.
Thomas has just moved with his heavily pregnant mother, father and autistic brother Charlie.
Thomas almost sixteen goes to school and takes up life saving lessons in the pool. Where Jackie (played by Emma Ward) first meets Thomas who is very shy and feels some embarrassment about his brother.
Jackie doesn't seem to mind Charlie bursting into her Bathroom to use the toilet while she was in the shower , as his brother tries to get him out a strange piece of head gear is left with Charlies name written in.
The couple support each other as Jackie who's mother has died and lives with her Dad grows closer to Thomas as he battles to keep up School, take Charlie on to the Special School Bus, cope with a new baby in the home and a family brawl at his sixteenth Birthday.
Charlie, as most autistic people is not stupid, he can write, understand and have feelings. What choked me up the most was when Thomas stepped in dressed up as a Monkey when Russell and Charlie fall out at their show.
Charlie although is in a sad situation is a very comical person who had me in stitches in some scenes.
This is a most moving drama, that has a element of humour, the father has a stuffed toy bear called Rex who he uses in conversation with the wife. Which I felt was a little disturbing.
If you like a story about real life that makes you think then this is the film for. You really start feeling for Thomas..
It has taken me a while to digest this film before writing a review here. The premise of the film, which I believe is semi autobiographical, deals with the disruption within a family caused by a severely retarded autistic/ADHD older teenage son and the effect this has on, particularly, his younger sibling Thomas who is coping with new home, new school and also new baby sister.
Although Charlie dominates the film with his chaotic and recognizably bizarre autistic behaviour it is Thomas's story.
It is not specifically stated but it appears that the family may have had to move a lot as a result of neighbourhood pressure on the Mollison family as the noise that comes from the house is, at times, quite disturbing.
Thomas, played brilliantly by soap star Rhys Wakefield who is a dead ringer for the young Heath Ledger, is dealing with all the usual problems that any teenage kid has to deal with but the pressure is put on him when his mum, Toni Collette being Toni Collette, has to go to hospital to rest while awaiting the birth of her new child. Significantly the gapo between these two children is 15 odd years wheras between Charlie and Thomas it is barely a couple of years thus giving a narrative concerning the non-survival of the first born. Added to this Thomas is falling in love for the first time in a big way.
There is much to recommend this film, particularly as a teaching tool in PSHE lessons dealing with tolerance and difference, and the raw look at a family coping under such extreme difficulty. There are some sequences that make for uncomfortable viewing particularly Thomas's birthday party that turns into a real nightmare after Charlie decides to masturbate at the tea table and the baiting at the school gate of Charlie. Like any film dealing with "an issue" it has a lighter side; it is ultimately a film about survival and especially about acceptance. As another reviewer wrote here this is one to see more privately, possibly, than the local Multiscreen.
The film will make you think, may make you feel relieved that you are not in Thomas's situation, may lead to discussions on how you would cope.
My one criticism is concerning the character of Charlie as, although written very accurately, there was no sense of the history of this character within the family beside their unflinching (almost) tolerance of his anti social behaviour. Although he is very far removed from the "cosiness" of Hoffman's Rainman and closer to De Caprio's in Gilbert Grape I could not help realising that I was merely watching a performance all the time
Another little gem from Australia. Black Balloon tells the story of Thomas, a young lad struggling with adolescence and coping with his autistic brother.
Aimed more at the teen/young adult market, Black Balloon heartwarmingly shows the complex and difficult relationship between Thomas and his autistic brother, Charlie. Having moved to a new house and school all Thomas wants to do is try and fit in and also win the affection of fellow class mate Jackie. Unfortunately, the other classmates are only too willing to ridicule Charlie, much to Thomas's embarassment. Thomas is torn between doing the right thing by his family and being accepted by his peers.
Jackie seems to be breath of fresh air as she has no problem being around Charlie despite his erratic and sometimes disturbing behaiviour and helps Thomas to accept that life with Charlie doesnt have to be a bad thing. After a voilent confrontation and wracked with guilt, Thomas realises that Charlie cannot change and that he has to accept his brother as he is and be at peace with it.
Standout performances from all the young cast and also Toni Collette (of Muriels Wedding) as Thomas's pregnant mum who is the heart of the family.
This drama has its funny and touching moments and sympathetically portrays the struggles young people have to fit in, being different and being happy with who you are.