Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Robert Connolly
Stars: Sam Worthington, Ed Oxenbould, Deborah Mailman, David Wenham, Peter Rowsthorn, Nicholas Bakopoulos-Cooke, Ena Imai, Terry Norris.
The idea of a film about a paper plane competition may not sound the most riveting prospect, but this gentle, family friendly locally made comedy/drama is actually a crowd pleaser that holds plenty of appeal. Paper Planes offers a nice and emotionally satisfying journey, and explores universal themes of grief, bullying, father-son relationships, friendship and the importance of winning at all costs.
It helps that there is a charming and endearing protagonist at the centre of the film. Rising young star Ed Oxenbould (from tv series Puberty Blues, and recently seen in Disney’s family friendly Alexander And The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, etc) delivers a very confident central performance as our self-sufficient and plucky hero Dylan. Dylan has learned to cope for himself as his emotionally distant father Jack (Sam Worthington) is still consumed by grief over the death of his wife and he barely moves from the living room where he watches old sporting videos.
Dylan discovers a knack for making paper planes, which takes him to the regional finals in Sydney. Then he desperately wants to participate in the World Paper Plane Championships, which are being held in Tokyo. Dylan also wants his father to be a part of his journey.
Dylan’s chief rival though is the arrogant bully Jason (played by Nicholas Bakopoulos-Cooke, from tv series Legend Of The Seeker, making his feature film debut here), who has a win at all costs mentality, and he needs to be taken down a peg or two. In another cute subplot, Dylan feels the pangs of a first crush when he spots Kimi (Ena Imai), a young Japanese competitor.
Nonetheless writers Robert Connolly (Balibo, etc) and Steve Worland (Bootmen, etc) offer up a whole parcel of familiar cliches of the genre. There is the nature of the competition itself where some important life lessons need to be learned; a father who is still grieving the death of his wife and refuses to reconnect with life; there is the eccentric and lovable old grandfather; the friendly fat kid. Bit it is also a little bit bland, and the material lacks the edge of his other films like The Turning, Romulus My Father, etc.
Writer and director Connolly ensures that the material does not become too mawkish or sentimental. But there is also a surprising lack of tension to some of the key dramatic moments in the film, and many of the characters are too one dimensional and lack depth. A suspension of disbelief is required to accept some of the events in the film.
Oxenbould delivers a confident and engaging performance here as Dylan, the persistent and wise beyond his years protagonist, who refuses to give up despite the many obstacles in his path. Worthington gets top billing, obviously for his perceived box office draw, in a smaller role as Dylan’s father who slowly regains his passion for life. But their dynamic adds a strong emotional undercurrent to the material.
David Wenham also contributes a nice performance as Jason’s father, a golfing pro who offers some words of wisdom along the way. Veteran Terry Norris has a lot of fun and brings some warmth and gentle humour to his performance as Dylan’s larrikin grandfather. And Deborah Mailman contributes some comic relief as Maureen, a former champion who now acts as the official representative of the Australian contingent.
Technically, Paper Planes is superb, and looks good. Connolly’s regular cinematographer Tristan Milani has beautifully shot the film in widescreen, and he captures some great scenery of Western Australia’s remote countryside as well as the thriving, neon lit streetscapes of Tokyo.
The local industry is not exactly renowned for producing crowd pleasing films aimed at a kids’ market, but Paper Planes is an unabashedly enjoyable, feel good family friendly film that will certainly appeal to its target demographic.