Penguin Bloom

  • 30 Jan - 05 Feb, 2021
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Reviews

Based on a true story and the book it inspired, Penguin Bloom is a tale of a family recovering from tragedy. While on vacation in Thailand, Sam (Naomi Watts) suffers a devastating fall, one that leaves her mostly paralysed from a spinal cord injury and after arriving back home, she struggles to acclimate to an intimidatingly unknowable new normal. How can she be a functioning and reactive mother to her three young children when she has to rely on her husband (Andrew Lincoln) to help her out of bed? How can she remain hopeful for a future when her options seem so limited? As Sam falls deeper into despair, there’s an unlikely new addition to the family.

When one of her sons brings home an injured magpie on the beach, naming her Penguin, Sam bristles at the disruption but she slowly develops a strange attachment to the bird and realises that if Penguin can recover then in some way, maybe she can too.

Like the symbolism at its centre, it’s not a particularly subtle film but on its own simple terms, it’s one that mostly works. Sam’s tentative connection to Penguin is believably choreographed, echoing her desire to care for her children, to look after a creature even more vulnerable than she is and through some slick wrangling, we can sense a growing chemistry between them. The bird itself is hard to resist, tottering around as if slightly inebriated, winning us over at the same time as the Bloom family, sneakily stealing innumerable scenes from the human cast. That’s also partly because they’re a little too thinly etched to read as real, messy, fully fleshed-out people.

Lincoln has little to do other than tighten his jaw and quietly weep but Watts serves an impressive and, given recent history, important reminder of just how effortlessly she’s able to eschew the trappings of movie stardom to embody a believable everywoman.

All in all, it’s a handsomely made and sturdy little movie, mercifully devoid of cloying sentimentality, an old-fashioned throwback for families in search of something safe and superhero-free that might not sing quite as loud as it could have but flies just about high enough nonetheless.