At first glance, this Australian drama about the unlikely bonding between a paralysed woman and a magpie has all the potential of a great inspirational film. Besides, Penguin Bloom is actually based on the true story of the same name written in the form of a memoir by Cameron Bloom and Bradley Trevor Greive.
Then, there’s Naomi Watts playing Sam Bloom, both a nurse and a mother of three young boys (Griffin Murray-Johnston’s Noah, Felix Cameron’s Rueben and Abe Clifford-Barr’s Oli) who loves the outdoors. She does a good job playing an emotionally vulnerable character while some of her interactions with the titular magpie (a few birds were actually utilised during production and then seamlessly integrated with the help of CGI) are downright charming.
The magpie itself is a scene-stealer here, as we witness how the adorable bird likes to squawk just to get someone’s attention or needs to be fed. Other times, we get to see how Penguin (named as such due to its black and white feathery appearance) being cheeky when the bird enjoys stealing teabags out of the mugs.
And yet, Penguin Bloom is pretty much a missed opportunity. Blame it on Glendyn Ivin, whose disappointingly flat and dull direction has more than often diluted both of the emotional and uplifting impacts of the movie. What we have here is nothing more than an unabashedly sappy melodrama, complete with an emotionally manipulative score composed by Marcelo Zarvos desperately aimed to tug at our heartstrings.
Ivin equally botches Shaun Grant and Harry Cripps’ adapted screenplay, beginning with the tedious approach of how he chose to focus on Sam’s depression after suffering from a freak accident while vacationing in Thailand with her family. Paralysed from the waist down, she feels both hopeless and useless despite her husband (Andrew Lincoln’s Cameron) and their kids are always there to support her.
The second half of the movie, however, does see Sam slowly regain her confidence as well as starts living her life, especially after Penguin the magpie helps her symbolically with her recovery process. From there, she subsequently agrees to take kayak lessons where she learns how to make full use of her arms to paddle and even swimming.
Penguin Bloom could have used more individual scenes involving Sam and the magpie. Too bad we didn’t get that since it would have benefited the movie more, given Watts and the magpie’s wonderful chemistry. Andrew Lincoln brings decent support to his role as a sympathetic husband, Cameron and so does screen veteran Jacki Weaver, who plays Sam’s domineering mother.
You can stream Penguin Bloom on Netflix beginning January 27, 2021 onwards.