Review: I’m sticking by Paper Planes

In my line of work, I’ve had the opportunity to meet and work with some amazing humans from the writing industry: literary agents, publishers, booksellers, and of course writers. Every now and then I’ll be in touch with someone who walks me into a pole with admiration. Today I had it backwards. Today the pole walked into me.

A few months ago I saw the trailer for a movie called Paper Planes and I immediately felt warmfuzzies for it. I have a pretty big love for Aussie films in general, and this one seemed to have a lot of heart. Also, who the fuck wouldn’t want to see a movie about a paper plane competition? For reals, this is what kids’ dreams are made of. Anyway, last week, a bunch of my Supanova friends went to the Moonlight Cinema premiere in Sydney, and I was wondering what all the fuss was about over Steve (Worland, one of said Supanova pals).

Do me a favour and google ‘Worland Paper Planes’.

Needless to say, my anticipation for this film quadrupled in an instant. Over the days after that premiere, I saw Steve posting a bunch of links and reviews for Paper Planes, which were all pretty damn positive. Someone even called it the best Australian kid’s movie since Red Dog (I didn’t know Red Dog was a kid’s movie?) Anyway. I went into the cinema last week with a lot of good feelings about what was to come, and I wasn’t disappointed by just how much fun this film was. But what I didn’t expect was the real heart of this story – a family trying to cope with the grief of a lost loved one.

If there’s one thing I will say for Sam Worthington (which, let’s all get a photo of this miraculous occasion), it’s that he had one really great, emotionally-charged scene, and boy did it hit the mark. You guys will all know by now that I have a particular soft spot for men expressing their feelings, and whilst it it’s pretty rare for a Wortho film (think Clash of the Titans, Avatar, Man on a Ledge), this role as a grief-stricken sole parent let him settle into something earthy, which I’ve always hoped he’d find after his myriad super-masculine-rough-n-tough-guy roles.

The star of this film though is the joyous Ed Oxenbould. This kid is going to be someone, I swear to god. I haven’t seen Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, but now I really definitely totally want to. That’s how invested I am in him. Oh man.

At 12 years old, Dylan Webber has gone through a pretty rough time. His mum is gone, and his dad pretty much is too, so he’s learned to take care of himself – ride to school, make meals, feed the random eagle he thinks he’s friends with (…?) – and it seems to be going okay. Somehow, he’s a 12-year-old who sticks up for himself to his bullies, and even manages to make friends with one in his class (who, by the way, has the funniest scene in the whole world about ten minutes into the film – thank you Steve!) Dylan has learned to be entirely independent of his father, which I guess after five months of him being checked-out isn’t unreasonable. Kids are pretty resourceful when they need to be.

So while at times I wondered at Dylan’s strength and courage in the face of bullies – let’s not forget he’s 12 – there were many, many wonderful moments for him to just be a kid. Obviously, building paper planes to win the junior world championship sits squarely within “children’s activities”, so he was kinda covered there.

I also want to talk about the vague rom-com thing between Dylan and Kimi. I love a good rom-com, and I love adorable 12-year-olds, but it didn’t quite fit together in this film. Perhaps it was because there were some classically rom-com-y scenes between them, but it was obvious that they were never going to explicitly go down the romantic path, so they fell very slightly flat. There are some genuinely spectacular moments of friendship and admiration between them which I adored (when Kimi does the backflip and Dylan just says “wow!” it melted my whole face) but I wish they’d focused on a friendship rather than hinting sporadically at romance. It was a teeny bit disconcerting at times.

There are some perfect supporting cast mentions: Deborah Mailman is my spirit animal at the best of times and by god she is a delight as the Australian mentor for the Plane Champs – yeah that’s what I’m calling them now shutup. Terry Norris also takes on some of the comic relief as Dylan’s criminally funny, ladykillin’ grandfather.
David Wenham plays the father of Dylan’s adversary Jason, and in what I think is my favourite polarisation of character in a long time, it’s the son who is power- and glory-mad. Wenham’s character is nothing but measured, supportive and caring despite his own personal sporting triumphs, and even has a lovely moment with Dylan at the championships. A+ on that character, guys.
Peter Rownsthorn shines as Dylan’s maths teacher and all-round gem of a human Mr Hickenlooper. Some comedic pearlers for this guy, and a genuine interest in Dylan’s Plane Champ career make this relationship subtly integral. I dearly want to know how their relationship was around the time Dylan’s mum left, because something tells me Mr Hickenlooper was instrumental in grounding Dylan where his father could not.

Paper Planes is fairly male-dominated which is a bit of a shame, and I think it would have been interesting to have arch-nemesis Jason played by a girl. Initially I wanted to suggest more women in adult roles, but that could too easily have fallen into the replacement-mother space, and that would have defeated the point really. I mean, it’s great as it is, but more ladies in anything gets an upvote.

Courtesy of Daily Mail


In all, this is one of my favourite Australian films of the last five years. It had a lot of heart, a lot of laughs, and in the end, was just a wonderful ride to be on. The fact I’ve had the pleasure of working with a co-writer gives it an extra special place in my heart, but even if Steve hadn’t written it, I’d still give Paper Planes 9 bacon-eating Eagles out of 10.


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