While enjoying a family vacation in Thailand, Sam Bloom (Naomi Watts) falls off a ledge and becomes a paraplegic. Months pass by after the accident and Sam is not only dealing with her paraplegia, she is also dealing with depression. Her husband Cameron (Andrew Lincoln) and their three young boys (Griffin Murray-Johnston, Felix Cameron, and Abe Clifford-Barr) bring home an injured magpie they name Penguin. They all pledge to nurse it back to health. Penguin Bloom is basically a story of an injured bird learning to fly again coupled with the story of a wheelchair user whose spirits are broken.
Whatever happened to “show, don’t tell”
Director Glendyn Ivin relies heavily on voiceover to tell us about how their lives were before the accident and instead of showing us a lot of the relationships, we’re told about them instead. The symbolism and metaphors are a little on the nose but we didn’t mind because that bird is just too cute.
The little bird steals the show, the limelight, and hearts with no regrets
Penguin charms everyone on and off the screen. It softens Sam’s hardened heart and makes herself at home, fluttering around and stealing teabags from mugs. The way the bird is included in the scenes as if it really were a member of the family is exceptionally well done. Take a bow magpie trainer Paul Mander, who was assisted with modestly used and seamlessly integrated CGI.
Penguin Bloom puts together a bunch of complex human emotions
Sam’s pain and struggle affect the family in different ways and have been shown well. Cameron just does not know what to do as he is stuck between the boys and Sam’s competing needs. The younger boys are old enough to know things have changed but not know how to process the change. In contrast, Noah (the storyteller) is not only old enough to process everything but also is dealing with the guilt of taking his mom to the spot of the accident.
We wish there were more “training” scenes with Naomi Watts
It is only in the second half that we see Sam rebuilding her life, opting for kayaking and training, and so on. Sadly, we do not get to see much of that and it is only at the end of the film that viewers learn that the real Sam Bloom would go on to compete in the World Kayaking Championships and become a two-time World Adaptive Surfing Champion.
WATCH OR NOT
Penguin Bloom tugs at the heartstrings, albeit in non-subtle ways, which makes it for a good watch if you are in the need of ugly crying. At the centre, Penguin Bloom is a story of hope and finding the will in yourself to overcome your circumstances.