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The Black Balloon

Year: 2008
Production Co: Black Balloon Productions
Director: Elissa Down
Writer: Elissa Down
Cast: Toni Collette, Rhys Wakefield, Gemma Ward
Struggling suburban family? A boy's first shy steps towards love? The rewards and frustrations of a mentally disabled family member? What is this, Clubland: Requiem?

Toni Colette leads a familiar but mostly unknown cast as the Mollisons move to a new city, giving 15-year-old Tom (Wakefield) the stress of fitting in to a new school as well as that of his share of caring for his Downs-syndrome affected brother Charlie (Ford).

But the film moves into darker territory, focusing on Tom's frustration at the responsibility he didn't ask for and which he fears will affect his own shot at happiness.

It seems to capture the challenges of caring for those who don't fit into polite society perfectly, but it begs the question; is it something you want to see? Sure, it's a giant leap away from pirates and robots that turn into trucks, but few of us need any reminding life's hard, and Black Balloon is as likely to make you feel guilty about your own life as it does sympathetic to the Mollisons'.

Writer/director Elissa Down and production designer Nick McCallum get the (circa) late 80s period perfect in their western suburbs Sydney location, and the performances sell the rest. Colette is as flawless as she's ever been but the real surprise is model-turned-actress (MTA) Gemma Ward. Her role doesn't tax her abilities too much, but she deserves kudos for not starting out with a role as American teen sex comedy or action movie eye candy.

The Black Balloon's accomplished and eager, but it's still going to remind you of the old cliché that Australian filmmakers make movies for social workers instead of audiences.

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