This comedy drama follows the travails of a suburban Aussie family, and in particular the struggles of teenager Thomas (Rhys Wakefield), who is largely responsible for the care of his autistic brother, Charlie (Luke Ford).

3.5

Toni Colette leads a familiar but mostly unknown cast in this local drama, which opens with the hard-luck Mollison family moving to a new city, giving 15-year-old Tom (Rhys Wakefield) the stress of fitting in to a new school as well as caring for his autism-affected brother Charlie (Luke Ford). The film, however, soon 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.

The Black Balloon 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 that 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 that life’s hard, and The 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. Collette is as flawless as she’s ever been, but the real surprise is model-turned-actress Gemma Ward, who plays Wakefield’s romantic interest. The role doesn’t tax her abilities too much, but she deserves kudos for not starting out with a role in an American teen sex comedy or as a slice of action movie eye candy. The Black Balloon is accomplished and eager, but whether it will connect with local audiences is another matter altogether.