Film review – PAPER PLANES, from ‘Built For Speed’

The charming Australian film Paper Planes has many of the ingredients usually found in successful Aussie movies: a story of triumph over adversity, larrikin humour and young romance and like recent hits such as Red Dog it deserves to become a family favourite. 

Ed Oxenbould, who was so impressive as the conniving younger brother in the excellent TV adaptation of Puberty Blues, plays Dylan a 12-year-old obsessed with fashioning and flying paper planes.  He carefully constructs his flying crafts for competitions where participants have to make a plane from a single sheet of paper and fly it the greatest distance. His hobby provides relief from a home life that has become miserable since his mother’s death and his father Jack’s (Sam Worthington) descent into a depressed funk.  When Dylan earns the right to compete in the world junior paper plane championships in Tokyo, life seems to be changing for the better but competition rival and resident bully Jason (Nicholas Bakopoulos-Cooke) appears determined to destroy Dylan’s dreams. 

With its well-worn themes of little guys taking on bullies, adults learning from the innocence of children and people persevering with their dreams, Paper Planes isn’t the most inventive or ground-breaking film.  Fortunately, though, a collection of bright, funny, likeable performances breathe new life into a familiar feel good story. 

Ed Oxenbould has a wonderfully, natural unpretentious manner and an apparent understanding of comedy and pathos well beyond his years. Consequently, he makes Dylan both precocious and sympathetic.  His enjoyable lead performance is supported by some fine efforts from the other cast members particularly Terry Norris as his feisty grandpa who fancies himself as the Don Juan of the retirement home and who encourages Dylan’s love of flight.  Peter Rowsthorn and Deborah Mailman also provide amusing and lively turns as Dylan’s teacher and the paper plane competition host respectively.  Also, young Julian Denison delivers some of the best laughs with his quirky performance as Dylan’s school mate Kevin.  Nicholas Bakopoulos-Cooke is appropriately obnoxious as the bratty Jason while Ena Imai charms as Dylan’s tentative love interest in a cute romantic sub-plot.

The only disappointments in the cast are the two major stars, Sam Worthington and David Wenham who admittedly suffer from underwritten roles. While it’s great to see a Hollywood star like Sam Worthington returning to Australian film, he doesn’t exactly deliver an indelible performance as Dylan’s depressed dad as he spends most of the film asleep on the couch. David Wenham, who plays bully Jason’s golf-pro dad, has little to do but offer a few brief homilies to his vile son.

Paper Planes has been attractively shot by Tristan Milani who provides impressive vistas of rural Western Australia which make a striking contrast with the bustling, high-tech, neon-lit world of Tokyo.

Paper Planes almost stands alongside The Prodigious T.S. Spivett as a clever, likeable story of an innocent but highly intelligent youngster pursuing their dream and in the process teaching adults about life.  Paper Planes works as well as and in many cases better than most Australian films of late and while it won’t blow anyone away it’s a film all ages can enjoy.

Nick’s rating: ***1/2.

Genre: Drama/ comedy.

Classification: PG.

Director(s): Robert Connolly.

Release date: 15th Jan 2015.

Running time: 96 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. 

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