Friday, October 22, 2010

Rewind--The Black Balloon

or: The Australian version of What's Eating Gilbert Grape.

One word to sum it up: Heart-breaking.

Usually, I tend not to watch Australian films. Maybe it's because of this love/hate relationship we have with the country here in New Zealand, or maybe it's because their films have always been meddling in the over-dramatic stuff. The Black Balloon, on a whole, didn't surprise me, as it was very Australian. That aside, this is a film which anyone could have made, but the Australian's seemed to have done it right.

Thomas (Rhys Wakefield) is a normal kid. His mother (Toni Collette) is pregnant, and his family has just moved to a new town. His brother, Charlie (Luke Ford), is severely autistic. When Thomas is put in charge of Charlie, he has to live with the embarrassments Charlie makes of him in public, and also the fact that Charlie makes trouble when Thomas is out with the girl he is in love with, Jackie (Gemma Ward). Thomas just wants to be normal, but is that possible with Charlie around?

While watching The Black Balloon, I found so many similarities to What's Eating Gilbert Grape that I was beginning to wonder if it was just an Australian rehash of that film. It's not, really, because The Black Balloon seems to be more of a family drama. One thing the Australian's are good at it making believable family portraits which we can all relate to, instead of succumbing to the wildly outrageous American stereotypes. Beneath the family drama, this film is a naive romance and conjures up the theme of friendship, too. It never becomes schmaltzy and never asks the viewer to feel for the characters, because you just do. Never once would you feel like the script is trying too hard to get emotional, or trying too hard to get you to cry. It's natural fragility and thought-provoking material makes this a film which is hard to slam down.

Luke Ford impresses the most, using the Method to perfectly create Charlie in a performance as worthy as Leonardo DiCaprio's in WEGG. Rhys Wakefield and Gemma Ward both ooze out the innocence of youth and do some pretty sweet performing. Toni Collette, as always, shines. The Black Balloon will dive you into sadness and loneliness, but ultimately you will come out of the film smiling. It doesn't ask for much, just an open-minded watch. Do that and this little indie should take you places the average American family drama can't.

THE VERDICT: A geniunely sweet yet harrowing coming-of-age story, which is tender but never too schmaltzy. Excels as a family based drama.


1 comment:

  1. Great review Stevee! How are there no comments on this review? Oh well, I guess I'll be the first! Luke Ford was just sensational. He impressed me even more than DiCaprio did in Gilbert Grape. Some Australian high-school english classes put The Black Balloon on their learning curriculum. I had to do an assignment, comparing and contrasting it to a fictional novel about a boy with autism. I've never forgotten the film since, and your review just made me want to seek it out again :)


You mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.


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