Being a teenager is hard. Kids are cruel and being different is the worst curse you can have. Having a brother who is so severely autistic that he can’t talk, throws tantrums in shopping centres and has a habit of breaking into strangers’ homes to use their toilets is a guaranteed recipe for a hellish childhood.
Thomas (Rhys Wakefield) is 16 and starting a new high school. His autistic brother, Charlie (Luke Ford), makes his life quite challenging, when all he wants is to fit in and make some friends. Thomas meets Jackie, a girl in his class, through a hilarious situation involving Thomas – hilarious for us that is, as the viewer cringes in embarrassment at how Thomas has to deal with Charlie’s complete lack of inhibitions as one of the many trials of life with an autistic family member. Jackie (Gemma Ward) is not only beautiful and smart, she is also compassionate and urges Rhys to accept Charlie for who he is and to stop wishing he was “normal”.
A tender rite of passage story told in the period of my own childhood in Sydney made the movie even more poignant and real to me. Seeing the kids wearing stack hats and carrying the old canvas back packs that were so popular at the time transported me right back to my own teens and earlier. What never changes is family dynamics. Thomas’ desire to have a “normal” childhood and life is quite painful to watch, often full of anger and resentment, but, in the end, tender, accepting and with a touch of humour that we all need to deal with the hard knocks life throws at us to deal with.
I have a theory that all Aussie movies are either fabulous or completely awful. This one is definitely in the fabulous area.