EIFF 2015 – Paper Planes
Robert Connolly’s Australian family film Paper Planes is the story of a young boy’s ambition to compete in the World Paper Plane Championship.
At first glance the premise seems somewhat unusual given that not many people will know that there is such a thing as the World Paper Plane Championship. There are tournaments for everything these days but you won’t see them appear on premium sports channels.
At its core the concept of this film isn’t all that new or different. It’s all a smokescreen to cover up the fractured family dynamic being healed by the child pursuing a passion. It’s pretty standard family film material that gives kids the message that hard work and determination can lead to accomplishing pretty much everything.
Despite the very formulaic nature of the setup I had a really good time with Paper Planes. The Australian setting gave the film a level of freshness that I found to be a nice change from the largely American influence the genre has been getting. That could just be my personal exposure but all the same I found it refreshing.
The protagonist, Dylan (Ed Oxenbould) is a good character who remains engaging throughout. I found it a little strange that he is so chipper after losing his mother a mere 5 months before the film starts but Oxenbould’s performance is nice and authentic. He’s very much a “wise beyond his years” type of kid but that works within the context of the story since his father has taken the loss so hard that Dylan has had to take charge to keep his family life from crumbling.
I like how Dylan’s development was approached. He is very heavily influenced by the way his mother brought up and the skill he has throwing paper planes acts as a symbol of that. He is inspired to pursue it as she was the one who taught him how to make him so succeeding honours her in some way. Throughout he is portrayed as a really nice kid who isn’t afraid to stand up for himself or others and approaches any issues maturely.
His father, Jack (Sam Worthington) doesn’t really do much in the story as he is so consumed by grief. Unfortunately this mostly translates as him laying around being inactive so he’s not the most interesting of people to spend any time with. Worthington is good enough for what he’s got but there’s really not a lot there for him to work with. I found the character to be quite puzzling some of the time as he takes his grief out on his son a lot of the time with no real apology made for the way that he acts. There are some weird choices made concerning him as well such as standing next to the phone listening to his son leaving him a message rather than answering it and speaking to him.
Naturally there is an antagonistic character in the form of Nicholas Bakopoulous-Cooke’s Jason who has a rivalry with Dylan over winning the competition. He’s a pretty bland villain type with an entirely predictable personality but there’s nothing really wrong with that. Their rivalry isn’t played up as much as it could be and arguably the film is a lot better for it.
Of course there is a sort of love interest in the form of Japanese contestant Kimi (Ena Imai) but it’s not really painted as a big deal. She’s a little lifeless as a character and comes across as a bit of a walking trope but as with everything here it’s all charming enough.
The story is pretty well told and moves along at a decent clip. I never felt like the film rushed or dragged at any point so top marks for keeping everything well paced. It’s surprising how easily I got invested in the mechanics of making a paper plane go further.
As the film draws to a close the resolution feels entirely predictable thanks to some heavy handed foreshadowing right from the start. There’s also a confusing eleventh hour obstacle that could have just as easily have been left out for all the difference it makes.
In terms of laughs there are quite a few here. Many of which come from Dylan’s womanising Grandpa (Terry Norris). He should maybe be a little more focused on his financially and emotionally struggling family in reality but he provides some genuine laugh out loud moments.
The best description for this film would be safe. I don’t say that negatively as it plays in its own sandbox really well and manages to be something that will entertain both parents and children alike to varying degrees. There is definitely more here for the kids but I had a great time here so this should absolutely be checked out.
An entertaining if formulaic family film that manages to be charming throughout despite a predictable story and obvious emotional beats.
The actors all do a good job here, especially the young ones with Ed Oxenbould delivering a charismatic and authentic performance as the lead. Dylan is a character worth investing in and seeing his journey to victory is very satisfying.
Sam Worthington doesn’t have much to work with but he’s good enough as the grieving father who can’t get his life back on track after the recent death of his wife.
This film definitely plays it safe and the whole thing is very predictable throughout. I felt it was handled well enough to not bother me but seasoned viewers will guess what comes up next. It’s well written and paced with good acting so there’s nothing really to annoy me here. There are some questionable story choices but not enough to derail the experience too much.
All told this is a safe and fun family movie that will appeal to kids and adults to varying degrees. I’d definitely advise checking it out if you’re in the mood for something light and entertaining.