When I first heard Penguin Bloom would be at TIFF 2020, I was excited. It was a film that garnered some buzz in the ramp-up to the festival, and it had a solid cast, and an interesting based-on-a-true-story premise. Telling the story of the Bloom family as they overcome tragedy with the help of a feathered friend sounds like it could be a winner. Sadly, despite some strong performances, Penguin Bloom falls flat, leaving little depth and a lot of wasted potential.
Following the events and story behind the real-life Bloom family, Penguin Bloom brings Naomi Watts and Andrew Lincoln (The Walking Dead) together as the parents of the Australian based family. An accident in Thailand leaves Sam (Naomi Watts) paralyzed from the waist down and her life is in tatters. As a lover of fitness and surfing, this accident crushes her motivation and drive to push herself in life.
Penguin Bloom starts by giving a sense of how her life has lost its meaning since the accident. When one of her sons finds a Magpie on the beach needing aid, the life of the Bloom family changes for the better, with Sam finally finding the will to push through her injury and find a new vigour she never thought possible.
Penguin Bloom takes what could be a memorable, and engaging story and squanders it under sappy concepts and half-baked ideas that never feel lived in or genuine. The story of the Bloom family has captivated countless people, yet director Glendyn Ivin crafts this movie as it if were made for the Hallmark channel, with all the corny false emotion that entails.
Even the titular Magpie, has little impact on the actual plot. While it is present and has some fun moments with the family, this is really Sam’s movie. It is a movie of her recovery, and her journey to push past her injury. There is nothing wrong with this fact, as her recovery and eventually finding success as a para-surfing athlete is exciting, and sadly more interesting than anything Penguin does throughout the runtime.
This is Naomi Watts’s movie, and it shows, she steals the scenes, and in a better movie could have delivered something exciting to watch. But, a flat, disjointed script and an inability to find a good tone, means that Watts is unable to elevate the rest of what is on offer. While there is some stunning cinematography, great concepts and loads of potential, it’s ultimately squandered in the end.
I walked into the Penguin Bloom wanting to like it, and with the cast and concept, it sounded like a winner. Unfortunately, not even Naomi Watts’ performance is enough to salvage this half-baked flick. The subject deserved better, but alas, this is a movie that is best saved for a mediocre streaming night, where you can enjoy the animal antics and the family drama but not expect much more than that.