The Black Balloon is a touching, engaging Australian drama about a family with two teenage sons, one of whom is autistic. At the start of the film, the mother is pregnant again, trying her best to manage the two boys she already has, plus a husband and a household. The autistic son, Charlie, naturally takes up a great deal of both parents’ time as well as the time and attention of the other son, Thomas. When Thomas brings a girlfriend home for dinner, things do not go exactly as planned, as with most things when the ever-unpredictable but sweet Charlie is around. All of the performances in this film are stellar, especially the two boys. I even had to watch the DVD special features to find out if the actor who pays Charlie was autistic or not (he is not). Sometimes, acting performances of characters with special needs go too over the top or are too unrealistic. Here, Charlie is a non-verbal, highly inquisitive young man who likes structure and regiment, but is not seen as a victim or a character in need of sympathy from the audience. He is just a teenage boy. He is happy in his own world with his own games. And the relationship between the two brothers is also not sugarcoated at all. There even is a very emotional scene when the brothers fight; it’s tough to watch since they are so close. The strong performances and convincing script are what make us so attached to these characters. No cardboard characters here!