FILM RATING: 3 stars
I’ve been watching more and more Australian films over the last few years, mostly because there are a lot of great actors coming out of Australia and when I look into their body of work, I come across their films from there. After discovering young Aussie actor Rhys Wakefield in the trailer to the upcoming film Sanctum (2011), I checked out his recent short film Clearing the Air (2009), and also added his film The Black Balloon (2008) to my Netflix queue.
What I was struck by more than anything else while watching this small foreign indie film today, was the amazing care and craftsmanship that obviously went into it. The movie starts with an incredibly creative opening credit sequence set to good Australian pop/rock music. The graphics for the titles are really cool, creative, and unusual in the way they are presented, which I really enjoyed and felt inspired by. Australian director Elissa Down wrote and directed this film based on her own family and childhood. The Black Balloon is basically a coming-of-age film, following in the footsteps of so many before it, but adding a new unique tale to the collection.
The story centers around Thomas, played very well by Wakefield, and his family. Toni Collette plays the typical “weird” mother that we’ve become accustomed to her playing in The Sixth Sense (1999), Little Miss Sunshine (2006), and About A Boy (2002). And Luke Ford plays Charlie, Thomas’ severely autistic brother. Having a “spastic”, as kids love to call Charlie, presents a lot of challenges for Thomas and his family. Thomas is a teenager who of course feels the pressure of fitting in and just wants a normal brother, a normal family, and a normal teenage life. But meeting Jackie, played nicely by model/actress Gemma Ward, through Charlie’s crazy actions, gradually changes things. As Jackie and Thomas become good friends and develop crushes, Thomas learns that not everyone his age judges him based on his brother. And he learns to gradually accept Charlie for who he is.
In terms of filmmaking, the cinematography is outstanding. There are quite a few scenes involving water, both at the pool and at a lake or river. The rich colors and interesting camera moves bring the house and suburban neighborhood where most of the film takes place to life. Set in the early 90’s, the costumes and production design easily take you back to that time period. While the acting never rises above good, it also never falls into cheesy Lifetime-esque movie of the week mode. I found the story interesting and the pacing/editing of the film just right.
The Black Balloon doesn’t rise above the typical coming-of-age genre film, but it does present another good story for a genre that always has a new batch of young filmgoers to address, and an aging film crowd who never seems to tire of reliving the awkward glory days of their youth. I give The Black Balloon 3 stars out of 5, and recommend it as a weekend afternoon rental for the entire family.
A few still images from a really sweet motion graphic production video clip for the Film Finance Corporation Australia (now Screen Australia) from the beginning of The Black Balloon film.