Tom Van Kalken | 30/01/2020
Despite Naomi Watts’ stellar performance, Penguin Bloom suffers from a mismatched plot that delivers poignant emotional beats one minute and then shoots itself in the foot the next.
Penguin Bloom appears to be two stories meld into one; on the one hand, you have a tragic tale of loss, rehabilitation and acceptance, and on the other a quirky family comedy about a mischievous magpie. You’d think that these two genres wouldn’t work together, and you’d be right. The beats in which we follow the antics of the family pet magpie, undercut and obscure what is otherwise a heartwarming story of self-realisation.
In Glendyn Ivin’s new Family Drama ‘Penguin Bloom’, Naomi Watts plays the role of Sam Bloom; the matriarch of a suburban Sydney family caught in the wake of a tumultuous family tragedy. Sam, along with her husband Cameron (Andrew Lincoln) and their young sons Noah (Griffin Murray-Johnston), Reuben (Felix Cameron) and Oli (Abe-Clifford Barr) are a close-knit family. But on a fateful family holiday to Thailand and through a series of unfortunate events, Sam falls two stories from a hotel roof, leaving her paralyzed. What follows is a deep depression, a tendency to lash out at her supportive husband and retreat into herself just when her children need her most.
It’s at this point in her life that Penguin Bloom enters. Penguin, of course, is the wild Magpie that the family finds injured on the beach and brings back home on the provision of nursing it back to health. The name, as explained by our narrator Noah, the eldest Bloom boy, is derived from the birds plumage of black and white feathers. Sam is initially cautious of the bird, making sure not to get too attached. As she explains to her son in a rather ham-fisted metaphor for her own paralysed state ‘the bird needs to be outside in the world, not confined indoors and unable to fly.’
Over the course of the movie, Penguin is nursed back to health by the Bloom family and literally learns how to spread his wings and fly once again (again, a rather apt metaphor for the film’s protagonist).
Glendyn Ivin takes ample opportunity to milk every possible comedic moment from this magpie, from hopping around the house and knocking things over while Sam follows in tow, to getting stuck in a vat of honey, to flying straight into a glass door. Unfortunately, these comedic moments, although genuinely funny from time to time, only serve as a detriment to the film, undercutting and muddying the genuinely heartbreaking story of Sam’s recovery.
Naomi Watts brings substantial heft to this side of the story with one of the best performances of the past 12 months. With admirable performances from Andrew Lincoln (with a not unconvincing Australian accent) and Jackie Weaver as the obligatory nosey mother, Penguin Bloom is a joy to watch despite its uneven pacing.
Seriously, Watts’ performance alone is worth the price of admission.