Based on the incredible true story, Penguin Bloom follows Sam Bloom (Academy Award® nominated Naomi Watts), a young mother whose world is turned upside down after a near-fatal accident leaves her unable to walk. As she learns to adapt to her new life, she finds hope in an unlikely hero, a small bird named Penguin.
It is very hard to foul off a family drama. Considering the story of Samantha Bloom, a woman who broke her back in a terrible accident that left her back broken and partially paralyzed, it’s perfect fodder for the feelgood. When you then combine that with breathtaking Australian coastline visuals, some cute kids, and one adorable magpie, the studio heads had to think they have an instant hit on their hands; for some of it, they did. However, the heartwarming fuzzy feelings that the genre is built on never takes flight for Penguin Bloom.
Samantha Bloom is played by Naomi Watts, a woman who lives in daily pain and shuts the window shades when her family leaves for the day to sit with her own painful thoughts. Her husband, Cameron (Andrew Lincoln), tries to get her to see life for what it is — a beautiful thing. Yet, she ignores her neighbor’s gestures, her sister’s kind words, and her mother’s smothering (played by the great Jackie Weaver). She has little to look forward to, even though she has three young children. That’s until the kids bring in an injured magpie, and they begin to heal together.
Considering the pedigree of screenwriters Shaun Grant (The Snowtown Murders) and Harry Cripps (The Dry), you can’t help but try to understand where they are coming from. They tried to adapt the autobiographical book of the same name and make a family drama with a bit of grit amongst its sunshine soaked backdrop. The narrative never rises to the heartwarming and uplifting story it had intended. That’s despite the script resorting to downright patronizing, its viewing audience with its themes without a hint of subtleness. It’s an odd combination that doesn’t work.
Watts really brings that style and Bloom’s struggle to life, showing not only the daily physical struggle but the emotional weight as well that comes with her mental health. It’s a brave performance from Watts, who goes without make-up, and you can see every beautiful imperfection that is amplified by her internal struggle. Any film shot on or around the beaches in Northern Australia will come with a certified stamp of awe-inspiring visuals. Some may even tout the cinematography, and for the most part, they did. You’d have to imagine, though, that cinematographer Sam Chiplin must have been sitting around counting his money like Gus Van Sant’s cameo in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back. While that is a positive, that can’t be the standard for a movie that needs a payoff for the audience that needed a reward on their investment.
The use of emotional support animals isn’t something celebrities pay for so they can bring their poodle onto an Emirates Airlines flight to Dubai. They serve a purpose and have great therapeutic effects for those suffering mental health issues, particularly depression, and provide substantial benefits. The film needed a more nuanced approach to that relationship and the overall story of its therapeutic value. While I generally have disdain for movies that always have a line that involves how a child, student, or animal go for sappy by saying, “I didn’t heal him (pause for emotional gut-punch). He healed me” moment, Bloom desperately needed it here.
Penguin Bloom, now streaming on Netflix, was directed by Glendyn Ivin (Last Ride), his second feature. The use of emotional support animals just isn’t something celebrities pay for so they can bring their poodle onto an Emirates Airlines flight to Dubai. They serve a purpose and have great therapeutic effects for those suffering mental health issues, particularly depression, and provide substantial benefits. His film had a chance to hit the sweet spot but never reaches its goal and relies on too many tropes and prominent themes that can be condescending and even border on haughty. This is the type of film whose story deserves another shot at a remake to truly value the story of redemption and rising above the odds the Bloom’s deserve.
“The heartwarming narrative never takes flight for the Penguin Bloom.”