In this Australian film, the odds seemed stacked against Thomas, as he turns 16—his family has just moved to a new town in New South Wales, his dad’s in the army and his mother’s pregnant. It would be hard enough to find new friends and maybe even a girlfriend, but then there’s the problem of Charlie, his autistic older brother, who is a constant embarrassment every time they’re out in public.
When Thomas takes swimming lessons, he meets Jackie and is instantly in love, but when she drops by his house, his brother is there, complicating matters. How is Thomas ever going to learn how to exist with his brother?
Movie fans might remember the early Leonardo DiCaprio/Johnny Depp movie, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? And find overtones in this movie, but Black balloon is in no way imitative.
Director Downs focuses neatly on the problems of adolescence and dealing with a family member with special needs. Her story carries the ring of truth, perhaps because she herself grew up with autistic brothers and co-wrote the script. Dramatic and funny, this is not a glossed-over look at a challenging family life, but it does leave the viewer with a sense of optimism concerning the human spirit.
Nominated for 24 awards and winner of 17 in Australia and elsewhere, this is a movie well worth seeing.