Penguin Bloom




Naomi Watts plays a fun-loving, athletic mother-of-three whose life is altered forever in a split-second. But this heartfelt Australian drama about her affinity with an injured magpie really doesn’t do her character justice….


Penguin Bloom  

Bird and the Blooms: Penguin and Griffin Murray-Johnston


The last time Naomi Watts visited Thailand on screen, in The Impossible (2012), she suffered horrific injuries to her chest and legs. In Penguin Bloom she falls off a Thai balcony and breaks her back. Back in Newport, Sydney, the once-athletic Sam Bloom (Naomi) has to contend with a daily routine of pain and despondency as she looks on at her three boisterous sons growing up without her. Sentencing herself to a life in the shadows, Sam descends into a pit of anger and self-pity. Her long-suffering husband, Kem (short for Cameron), ladles on the love and compassion, but seems unable to reach her. The one thing he is forbidden from doing is asking her how she is.


Beware the film that arrives with such adhesive-ready labels as “heart-warming” and “based on a true story.” Regardless of a movie’s provenance, it needs to convince on its own terms, be it set in outer space or at Hogwarts. Penguin Bloom has no difficulty in creating a plausible world, but its storyline seems somewhat unremarkable in light of recent ‘unbelievable-but-true’ narratives. The real story – of Sam Bloom’s subsequent triumph as a two-time ‘World Adaptive Surfing Champion’ – is not what Penguin Bloom is about, which seems a shame. Disney’s Soul Surfer (2011), about the American surfer Bethany Hamilton who went on to win various titles after losing her arm in a shark attack, was a tale worth telling. Here, Sam’s battle is more prosaic – the triumph of finding happiness in the face of utter despair. However, the title role goes to Penguin, an injured magpie adopted by Sam’s eldest son, Noah (Griffin Murray-Johnston), our narrator.


The problem with Penguin Bloom is that it has neither the gritty realism of, say, Ken Loach’s Kes (1969) – another tale of bird and boy – nor the heart-warming sheen of Soul Surfer. That is not to say it hasn’t got its array of assets. Jackie Weaver, as Sam’s mom, provides a nice line in sardonic forbearance, while Naomi Watts and Andrew Lincoln are invariably good value, with the latter, as Cameron Bloom, skilfully underplaying his Antipodean accent. The latter’s photographs are particularly striking and are well worth hanging around for during the closing credits. And any film that opens with the haunting dawn chorus of Australian birdsong is already on the right foot. There’s also a lovely moment when, Noah, practising his guitar, makes a rough approximation of Lennon and McCartney’s ‘Magpie’. Nonetheless, Penguin Bloom suffers from being neither fish nor fowl.




Cast: Naomi Watts, Andrew Lincoln, Jacki Weaver, Griffin Murray-Johnston, Felix Cameron, Abe Clifford-Barr, Rachel House, Leeanna Walsman, Lisa Hensley, Gia Carides.


Dir Glendyn Ivin, Pro Emma Cooper, Bruna Papandrea, Steve Hutensky, Jodi Matterson and Naomi Watts, Screenplay Shaun Grant and Harry Cripps, based on the book of the same name by Cameron Bloom and Bradley Trevor Greiveby, Ph Sam Chiplin, Pro Des Annie Beauchamp, Ed Maria Papoutsis, Music Marcelo Zarvos, Costumes Joanna Mae Park, Sound Chris Goodes, Dialect coach Victoria Mielewska.


Screen Australia/Endeavor Content/Create NSW/Made Up Stories/Jam Tart Films/Broadtalk-Netflix.

96 mins. Australia/USA. 2020. Rel: 27 January 2020. Available on Netflix. Cert. PG.