If “Penguin Bloom” wasn’t based on a true story, you might find it to be more than a little unbelievable. But incredible, real-life events are the backbone of this honest, sincere, uplifting family drama.
Naomi Watts stars as Sam Bloom, wife and mother of three young boys living in Australia. While on vacation in Thailand, Sam leans against second-story railing on the roof of their hotel. The railing gives way and she falls to the ground. The very athletic and active woman fractures her spine and is confined to a wheelchair. She can’t feel anything below her bra strap line. (You may remember Watts starred in 2012’s “The Impossible”, about the devastating 2004 tsunami in Thailand.)
Obviously, this is a devastating lifestyle change for Sam. She can no longer surf or play with her rambunctious boys. She completely shuts down, refusing to leave the house. Husband Cameron (“The Walking Dead”’s Andrew Lincoln) tries his best to keep Sam’s spirits up. Son Noah (Griffin Murray-Johnston) takes his mother’s accident especially hard. But just when it seems this family unit may be at the breaking point, Noah discovers an injured baby magpie at the beach. He brings the bird home, and names her Penguin. The parallels between a magpie who can’t fly and a mom who can’t walk are unmistakable. Again, thank goodness this story is true.
“Penguin Bloom” was filmed in and around the Bloom family’s actual house on the Australian coast. The cinematography of this exotic location is breathtaking.
In fact, practically everything in the film has an authentic feel. The dialogue and motivations of every family member are legit. Key supporting characters include Sam’s mother (Jacki Weaver) and a lively kayaking instructor.
A few scenes of the wild bird adapting to her new home (to bouncy background music) do teeter on bad animal family comedy territory. Thankfully, director Glendyn Ivin shows restraint with the comic relief and the sentimentality.
“Penguin Bloom” is about overcoming physical and mental struggles. This applies to everyone – the kids, the adults and Penguin (who’s played by a total of 10 magpies). It leaves you comforted, hopeful and positive – feelings we all can’t get enough of during these challenging pandemic times.
LCJ GRADE: B
Running Time: 95 min. For more on the film and to watch it, visit netflix.com/penguinbloom