The Black Balloon Movie Review

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Would you be able to cope? That is the unspoken challenge laid down by “The Black Balloon,” a harrowing, unsentimental portrait of a middle-class Australian family whose oldest son has severe autism compounded by attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Would you find in yourself the seemingly infinite reserves of love and patience possessed by the Mollisons, the movie’s itinerant, highly stressed army family who have just moved to the suburbs of Sydney? Maybe not. “The Black Balloon,” directed by Elissa Down, was inspired by her experiences growing up in a household with two autistic brothers, the younger of whom served as the model for Charlie (Luke Ford), a mute who communicates in sign language and heaving, wheezing grunts. When calm, Charlie is adorably playful and cuddlesome, but when agitated, which is often, he makes noises that assume a feral intensity. At his most intimidating, during uncontrollable tantrums, he becomes a desperate wild animal, flailing and spitting and biting. Mr. Ford, who was seen earlier this year as the hero’s rambunctious son in “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor,” makes Charlie a character whose complexity transcends his disability; you can almost decipher the words he is unable to speak. Ms. Down’s sympathetic alter ego is Charlie’s slightly younger brother, Thomas (Rhys Wakefield), a shy 15-year-old whose love for Charlie is increasingly compromised by his embarrassment. As the new kid at his school, Thomas is something of a fish out of water himself; barely able to swim, he struggles to stay afloat during lifesaving classes. He is so ashamed of Charlie, who attends a school for the disabled, that when Jackie (Gemma Ward), a sweet, attractive girl his own age, comes calling, he futilely tries to keep him out of sight. “The Black Balloon” offers a wrenching portrait of the Mollison household. The boys’ exhausted mother, Maggie (Toni Collette), only days away from giving birth to a third child, refuses the bed rest ordered...
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