TIFF 2020: PENGUIN BLOOM REVIEW

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Penguin Bloom is Glendyn Ivin’s dramatization of the surreal true story of Australian Sam Bloom, who was left paralyzed and unable to walk after falling off a balcony during a vacation in Thailand. After her family take in a stray injured magpie that is unable to fly, she learns to adjust to her new disability through caring for the intelligent wild bird. It’s a heartwarming tale, with messages that are a little too on the nose and a script that is a bit too sickly-sweet – but an overall uplifting movie that will most certainly make you want a pet magpie of your own.

Naomi Watts portrays Sam and is entirely convincing in the role – it’s always nice to realize there were times where I forgot I was watching ‘Naomi Watts as Sam’ and completely believed in her as her own character. The issue is Sam is sometimes, honestly, hard work to watch – you join her in this feature at one of the lowest points in her life, coming to terms with a life-altering disability; because of that, the Sam you see in the first half of Penguin Bloom is a rather bitter, miserable character who I found difficult to engage with.

Things are kept from getting too heavy when the family take in the injured magpie they call Penguin. The similarities between Penguin’s situation and Sam’s are immediately obvious, though just in case, you’re hit over the head with a line from one of the Bloom children pondering, “I wonder how it feels to have wings but not be able to fly.” …Yes, yes, think about having legs but not be able to walk, got it, check.

Penguin Bloom doesn’t seem to rely too heavily on CGI, thankfully, and it’s the scenes with the magpie that really capture your attention and pull at your heartstrings. Penguin gets a favourite cuddly toy; helps warn the family when Sam needs help; and poops on everything. Lucky the Blooms don’t have carpet. I’m not too sure whether it’s good or bad that the most standout feature of this movie for me was the magpie, and not necessarily any of the actors themselves. Although, that being said, Rachel House (who delivered an amazing performance in Taika Waititi’s Hunt For The Wilderpeople) is incredible as Sam’s kayaking teacher and extremely impactful despite only showing up partway in to the feature.

Ivin splits the focus of the movie between Sam’s struggle with her disability and her son Noah’s feelings of guilt for his part in her accident. It keeps things from becoming too one-note, although Sam’s perspective is infinitely more interesting. This dual-focus also unwittingly shoves the other two young Bloom children off to the side, and it’s all too easy to forget they even exist.

Penguin Bloom is a predictable, fluffy feature helped along by a strong performance from Watts and an endearing animal co-star. It won’t be the best movie you’ll ever see, but it’s a pleasant way to pass a Sunday afternoon during the shitstorm of 2020.

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