January 13, 2012
Here’s one that slipped under my radar like a crafty German U-boat under the icy waters of the North Atlantic of 1941. The Black Balloon tells the story of 16 year old Thomas Mollison (Rhys Wakefield). Relocating to New South Wales, Australia, Thomas must adjust to his new town, new school, pregnant mom, and severely autistic older brother, Charlie (Luke Ford). At school, Thomas meets Jackie (Gemma Ward), a beautiful and highly thoughtful gal who doesn’t seem to mind that Thomas is incredibly awkward or must constantly care for his brother, Charlie, which Thomas is beginning to hate. Thomas’ father, Simon (Erik Thomson), plays the caring but obviously busy military dad. He genuinely cares about Charlie, yet seems resigned to the fact that his life is what it is, and that he cannot do anything to change it. Thomas’ mother, Maggie (Toni Collette), is the true glue that holds this family together. She is able to not only control and relate to Charlie, but also to reign in Thomas as he spirals into heated moments with his brother. Expecting her third child any day, Maggie still comes across as the major backbone of the story, dealing with the multiple and increasingly difficult situations around her.
As Thomas begins to fall in love with Jackie, we see that adolescence is a tumultuous time, one that I’m sure we all remember with a mixture of good and bad memories. He plays a slippery game of remaining loyal to his family responsibilities while expressing his desire to be with Jackie and to branch out and grow up.
I thought this film was really well done and well acted. It showed the awkwardness of being 16, coupled with the emotional journey and incredible strength it must take to care for a disabled family member.
4 out of 5