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:: Black Balloon

In her debut effort, director/co-writer Elissa Down draws on her personal experiences with frank honesty to lift the Black Balloon up from being just another heart-warming movie about a family living with a special-needs child. As the sister of two autistic brothers, she does not take the usual easy movie way out by including an appealing or a high-functioning autistic teen or adult. There are no miraculous breakthroughs in a family where the abnormal is normal.

Elissa never glosses over the daily difficulties in the life of Thomas Mollison (Rhys Wakefield). Not only is the 15-year-old army brat adjusting to a new suburban school, but his heavily pregnant mother Maggie (Toni Collette) and father Simon (Erik Thomson) need him to supervise his frequently out of control autistic big brother Charlie (Luke Ford).

At school, Thomas wants to fit in and make friends, but he wonders if that is possible given that his classmates make fun of the school bus carrying Charlie and other mentally challenged kids to their school. In swimming class, Thomas is attracted to Jackie (Gemma Ward), and she seems to take an immediate liking to this awkward swimmer and archetypal outsider. But he's embarrassed by an incident involving his brother at her house. After several dates, Thomas invites her to attend his family celebration of his birthday. But Charlie spoils the evening, and Thomas explodes in anger. It is a frightening scene which conveys his rage at the fact that his brother will never be normal.

What could have been a rather grim look at mental illness and its effect on an Australian suburban family is instead presented with honesty, warmth and wit. A film surely destined for awards and the DVD, with its additional features, is well recommended.

DVD Extras

Audio commentary with Elissa Down
Interviews with cast and crew
Photographic slideshow