Wednesday, March 5, 2008

REVIEW: The Black Balloon

The Black Balloon (AU)

Written and Directed by: Elissa Down with Jimmy Jack as co-writer

Starring: Luke Ford, Toni Collette, Rhys Wakefield, Gemma Ward and Erik Thomson

What's it about? All Thomas (Rhys Wakefield) wants is a normal adolescence but his autistic brother, Charlie (Luke Ford), thwarts his every opportunity. Will Thomas, with the help of his girlfriend, Jackie (Gemma Ward), accept his brother? (

Since moving to Australia 11 1/2 years ago, I have become increasingly frustrated with Aussie films. Don't get me wrong, there are some extremely talented people in the Australian Film Industry. The problem seems to be with the style that they all try to adopt. Everyone is so afraid of making a film "TOO American", that they forget to make it good. I've seen a few exceptions such as Muriel's Wedding, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, The Castle, Two Hands and The Bank. I have yet to see some of the most acclaimed Aussie movies, but I'm sure some of them have the Oz style problem too. (Romulus My Father and Japanese Story both suffered from the Aussie Syndrome)

You see, it's all about the sweeping landscapes. Australia is a beautiful place, and filmmakers here
tend to use that instead of an actual story or dialog. This can be highly irritating, especially if all other elements of the film are there waiting to be used. I went into the Black Balloon with this in mind, and a top notch press kit in hand.

I'm not saying I went in immediately ready to dismiss the film, I'm simply saying I was aware of what could happen. That 10 or 15 minutes could pass without anyone speaking or I'd get a 5 minute shot of some landmark, but luckily this wasn't the case at all. Instead, what I watched was a touching, funny and often heartbreaking look at what life can be like with autism in the family.

I've never known an autistic person but I'm sure you and I have seen many. I'm sure we've all sm
iled politely and looked away or given that "poor you" look to parents and guardians. I'm even more sure that those parents and guardians would love to run us over with their cars. Not just because we don't understand, but because we don't have to.

The Black Balloon gives us both sides, one from their view and one from ours. We learn the joys of living with someone like Charlie, and we learn the devastating disappointments too. Luke Ford, who plays Charlie, spent 5 months researching the role and learning from Writer/Director Elissa Down's autistic brother. He even went out in public to test his character, and he says some of the reactions weren't pretty. I kept watching through the entire film waiting to see a flash of so-called normality in his face, but he was absolutely committed to the character during the entire film. On set, he says Charlie was far more popular than Luke.

I'll be posting a podcast of my interview with Luke Ford soon, where he also discusses his role in The Mummy 3.

First time Director Elissa Down impresses and while her style isn't perfect, the film does have a rhythm and flow. A good example of her interesting point of view is a crisp shot of the garden sprinkler, something every day and boring made beautiful. I hope that Down isn't one of those one hit wonder Aussie directors, and that we see much more from her. It'll be a pleasure to watch her grow as a director.

If you're able to see The Black Balloon (it's out this week in Australia) then please do. It's an extraordinary tale based on real life really couldn't make this stuff up. Every actor in the film is believable and sincere. It was also great to see Aussie Television actor Erik Thomson (he kind of looks like an older Joshua Jackson) break out into the big screen. He's really brilliant as the lost Dad. Rhys Wakefield plays Thomas, the supposed lead in the film and does a very decent job of it, yet Luke Ford steals the movie with his portrayal.

I think everyone should see this and support Aussie cinema. Some of the scenes in this film are incredibly confronting, yet at the same time it's lighthearted and sweet. I can't say enough about this beautiful film.

I give the Black Balloon 4/5 Stars!

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