Monday, October 13, 2008

The Black Balloon Soars

The Black Balloon - Thomas (Rhys Wakefield) is a teenager moving into a new home and a new school - life would be so much easier if he could just fit in, but his autistic brother Charlie (Luke Ford) makes the whole family different. Their mother Maggie (Toni Collette) is tough enough to hold everyone together, but her difficult pregnancy adds to the pressure on Thomas. Thomas finds romance with Jackie (Gemma Ward), a beautiful classmate who 's drawn to Thomas partly because she sees his caring relationship with Charlie. When Charlie startles Jackie with some surprising behavior at a family birthday dinner, Thomas finally explodes, then picks up the pieces and begins to accept the fact that Charlie can never change, only he can.

Director and co-writer Elissa Downs captures the love, resentment, humor and resolve inside this family with exceptional authenticity based on her experience with autistic siblings. Like Canvas, The Black Balloon stays squirm in your seat real from start to finish with no sacharine added, but Black Balloon does a better job of mixing in lighter moments. Downs draws on some of the zaniness within her own family (apparently considerable, including the liberal use of teddy bears to lubricate intra family communication) to make this movie funny and sometimes uplifting without a hint of artificiality.

The Black Balloon is worth the price of a theater seat (opens in November in New York) and certainly more than worthy of a rental. Best of all, if you have a chance to see this movie at a festival where Elissa Downs will appear, don't miss it. Think Hamptons this weekend if you can make it. Her post-screening Q&A is a stand-up act that is ready for prime time on Comedy Central.

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