I'm branching out a little. I've covered a couple of books about Autism/Aspergers (with more to come) and now I'll be adding the occasional "spectrum" movie review. The movie reviews won't be "remembering" films I've seen, I'll be re-watching things and re-evaluating in the light of my present moods/feelings and also current political/social trends.
Today's review is The Black Balloon, which I watched for the first time last night.
The Black Balloon (2008)
Director: Elissa Down
Writer: Elissa Down, Jimmy Jack
Starring: Rhys Wakefield, Luke Ford, Toni Collette, Erik Thomson, Gemma Ward, Sarah Woods
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 90%
The Black Balloon is an Australian film about a family with a late-teen severely autistic child. The story is told mostly from the point of view of his "normal" brother and covers the problems with fitting into a new area and acceptance both within the family and within the community.
It's very obvious that the cast and crew are familiar with autism. In fact, writer/director Elissa Down has two brothers on the spectrum (and one NT brother). She mentions in the featurette that some of the more outlandish things in the film actually did happen in her family. Actor Luke Ford spent quite a bit of time with one of Elissa's brothers and I think he's got the performance nailed.
It's good to see that the story doesn't present the hollywood stereotype of the autistic savant. Instead, Charlie is an individual who embodies the majority of the qualities you'd see in anyone in a similar position on the spectrum. He's just as frustrating as most severely autistic people in that he has good and bad periods and that sometimes, for no apparent reason, the good period slides into the bad.
It's also good to see that in between the stimming and generally hyperactive behaviour, Charlie is shown as a person with the full range of emotions - it's a subtle performance but it's there if you look for it. He's shown as loving, particularly to his mother, played by Toni Collette and to his brother. His sense of humour comes out, as does his frustration.
If I have any issues with the film, it's mostly that at times it becomes a little saccharine. The family is just too tolerant and too loving. The school friend, played by Gemma Ward is also too understanding to be real. There was also a social worker scene which went nowhere, it looked like it was going to provide an interesting spin on the story but instead, it was just dropped - I wanted more.
One of the main reasons I want to review films on the subject of Autism and Aspergers is to look at the messages which are being sent out to the general public. In the case of this film, the ultimate message is about acceptance and love.
At times, the film delves into "Autism Speaks" territory giving us an insider's view of the impact of autism on the family. Of course, the film doesn't want us to dwell on the burden and I suspect that this is the reason why the family is portrayed as a little too perfect/understanding. It's painful to watch the impact that Charlie is having on his family but at the same time, his parents and ultimately his brother show us that it's not about tolerance or even simple acceptance, it's about love.
There's so much in this film from it's throw-away lines, such as the father's message to "quitters"....
Thomas Mollison: Dad do you ever wish Charlie was normal.
Simon Mollison: All I know is he's my own, and you're weak if you don't look after your own
To the message for those who see only despair....
Jackie Masters: Close your eyes, what do you see?
Thomas Mollison: Black.
Jackie Masters: Look harder.
It's highly recommended viewing.