Review: "The Black Balloon"

Maybe I've just seen too many movies, but I'm starting to get the sneaking feeling that I've seen it all before. Especially when I watch movies like Elissa Down's unbearably schmaltzy, overly precious Australian drama, The Black Balloon.

There comes a time in movies like this where I just want to throw up my hands and say "OK, I've seen enough." But like any good critic I slog my way through and give the entire film a fair shake. It's not worth it.

The Black Balloon is not the worst film I've ever seen, but there's just something about movies like this that make my skin crawl.

Rhys Wakefield stars as Thomas Mollison, a high schooler in a military family who has just moved into a new school. It's hard enough starting a new school at that age, but adding to his woes is his brother, Charlie (Luke Ford), who is severely Autistic and suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder.

Thomas comes to resent Charlie, who seems to be holding him back from leading a normal life and is a constant source of strife and embarrassment. His harried but loving mother (Toni Collette) is pregnant and unable to care for Charlie as she once did, leaving his dad (Erik Thomson) to try to control the situation, but whose hand just isn't firm enough. But it isn't until he meets the beautiful Jackie (Gemma Ward), that the familial tensions come to a head, and Thomas realizes just how much his brother means to him.

Still awake? Feel nauseous yet? Because The Black Balloon is as gooey with saccharine as they come. I hate feeling manipulated by a film, and in that regard this one is completely shameless. It feels more like a TV movie of the week than a feature film.

The performances are fine. Luke Ford (The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor) is especially good as Charlie. His performance is absolutely convincing, and if didn't know any better I would have though he really was Autistic. The rest of the cast (especially Wakefield) tend to take the overly sincere route. The production itself is competently, if unimaginatively, put together, leaving little room for invention or originality. This is standard Hallmark fare but to its credit it never tries to hide from that.

But to me it was more like bland, reheated left overs of Rain Man and every other movie that deals with mental illness in this way. It's an overly calculated, touchy-feely piece of faux-inspirational pap that would be more at home on TV than on the big screen.

GRADE ** (out of four)

THE BLACK BALLOON; Directed by Elissa Down; Stars Rhys Wakefield, Luke Ford, Toni Collette, Erik Thomson, Gemma Ward; Rated PG-13 for some sexual content, a scene of violence, and brief strong language


Anonymous said…
I totally lost my screener of this. Oops.
Mattie Lucas said…
You're not missing anything.
Craig Kennedy said…
I didn't hate this one though I thought I would.

Yet, I still haven't been able to bring myself to review it.

Ordinarily I run from this kind of thing screaming. Movies that use disabled people as a crutch generally piss me off, but this one had its heart in the right place.

But yeah, I can see how if you're not into it by the end, the climactic scene must've been freakin' unbearable.

Ah well, they can't all be winners.
Mattie Lucas said…
I don't know if it was just the presence of Toni Collette or what, but that climactic scene seemed like it was ripped straight from "Little Miss Sunshine."
Anonymous said…
I have not seen this either, but it does not look promising. With the year-end frenzy, I'm sure my excuse will be that I don't have time. Very nicely-written piece here.

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