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film review: paper planes

Screen Shot 2015-01-29 at 12.44.19 pm

This clip of a mutant giant ninja dog received more views on YouTube in 2014 than any Australian movie trailers. It’s a sad fact that we’re better known for our kangaroos than we are for our Luhrmanns, and that even great Aussie films like Samson and Delilah won’t scrape up half the sales of shitboxes like Dumb and Dumber To. But, as new Aussie kid’s flick, Paper Planes implores, resilience pays off. And though somewhat of a trial for adults, the film represents the lift off into 2015 that Australian cinema needs.

Australian cinema historically lags in the shadow of Hollywood; our less developed industry struggles to financially sustain itself, and stigma paints Aussie films as reliably subpar. All up, the thunder of Hollywood’s rolling boulder has gathered a good hunk of pennies from out of Australian pockets. Where little Aussie films are usually crushed under its shadow, however, Paper Planes, directed and co-written by Robert Connelly, seems to be standing strong. On its opening day, the kids pic outsold Inarritu’s Birdman, and Jolie’s Unbroken — that’s right, it outsold Angelina Jolie. For this feat alone, Connolly’s pic deserves a tipped hat or two.

Paper Planes boasts a cute, feel-good plot. Twelve year old boy, Dylan (Ed Oxenbould) lives in rural Western Australia with his father, Jack (Sammuel Worthington). The pair are in mourning for Dylan’s mother, who died five months ago; a depressed Jack rarely moves from the couch and struggles to support his son. Thank f*ck for the relief teacher who introduces Dylan to the world of paper plane tournaments. Discovering his talent for aerodynamics, and nurtured by new friends and family, Dylan soars to the international paper plane championships; his badass origami eagle flies over fifty metres in just one throw. The only thing better than that adorable kid winning would be if Qantas were half as successful.

As SBS film critic Fiona Williams puts it, the film promises an uplifting message about resilience sure to meet parents’ approval, with young Australians watching one of their own overcome adversity through determination and hard work. Bullies Kevin (Julian Dennison) and Jason (Nicholas Bakopoulos-Cooke) forgo their vendettas, showcasing ideals of kindness and mateship. After one encounter with our mature protagonist, Kevin promptly apologises for teasing Dylan and thereafter acts as his cheer squad.

Though a nice message for kids, it doesn’t quite work for older viewers. The film is lazily unbelievable in parts. Though Dylan’s offbeat grandfather, with his penchant for sexual polygamy and willingness to trespass is just passably persuasive, it’s harder to accept the characterisation of  Dylan as energetic and mostly cheerful, given his mothers’ death a mere five months ago. Though his memories of her suggest ongoing mourning, his so-called grief never dents his resolve — or his rosy, smiling dimples — even once. Granted, it’s a difficult task to balance adults’ need for depth and believability against concerns of traumatising small children. However, it is one which could have been more skilfully dealt with in this film. The script also leaves wanting. Simplistic and cringeworthy dialogue like ‘That’s what mates do,’ imitates a made for TV Christmas special, and the plot is pretty predictable and slow moving.

All this aside, it is refreshing to watch local cinema, and its even more invigorating to know it’s receiving attention. The patchy grass was a shade I know, the language familiar and the characters relatable to my primary school friends and teachers. All this stirred a sense of nostalgia and comfort; call it bias, but I loved watching this film because it felt like home.

Paper Planes has likely unleashed a fresh hell upon teachers, sure to be pegged a few times with the wing of a work sheet or two. And almost certainly launched a strong start for Australian cinema into 2015.


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