TIFF review: Penguin Bloom never takes wing

Naomi Watts rises above this cliché real-life story of a broken woman whose recovery comes about thanks to an injured magpie

PENGUIN BLOOM. SPEC D: Glendyn Ivin. Australia. 95 min. Sep 12, TBLB, 12:30 pm; Sep 12, 6 pm, Bell Digital Cinema; Sep 17, TBLB, 8:30 and 9 pm. tiff.net. Rating: NN

After active Aussie Sam Bloom (Naomi Watts) falls from a faulty roof railing and breaks her back while vacationing with her family in Thailand, she sinks into a depression. The appearance of an injured magpie – whom the family calls Penguin because of its black and white colouring – helps her recovery.

Yes, Penguin Bloom – based on a real-life story – is every bit as maudlin as that premise sounds. It’s got all the complexity of a children’s fable – fitting, since it’s partly narrated by one of Sam’s three sons, who feels responsible for causing the accident.

That son never comes into focus, but then again, neither does anyone else except Sam. Her photographer husband Cameron (The Walking Dead’s Andrew Lincoln) is merely patient and loving; her mother Jan (Jacki Weaver), is overly protective and might have a drinking problem. That’s it, as far as character development. The kids are sad when their parents are fighting, happy when they’re jumping on a trampoline. Rachel House jolts the film to life as a no-nonsense kayak instructor.

It’s up to Watts to carry the picture, and she does with her usual intensity and intelligence. Still, at times she seems embarrassed to be speaking some of screenwriter Shaun Grant and Harry Cripps’s cringeworthy dialogue, especially as the life-affirming epiphanies pile up near the end.

There are many holes in the script. A lighthouse’s significance is never revealed; Sam’s athleticism isn’t fully developed before her accident. And while Penguin is awfully effective at squawking and ruffling its feathers, it’s obvious the creature is being played by more than one bird.

But at least director Glendyn Ivin spares us the physiotherapy scenes that are usually part of such pictures. And it’s refreshing to see Watts, Lincoln and Weaver speak in their own accents for once. So that’s something.

Read more TIFF reviews here.


Comments (1)

  • Julian D'Angela September 12, 2020 03:05 PM

    Not everything needs to compare to the Lion King. Disappointing that you would write such a discouraging review of a lovely family film based on a beloved book. You deem yourself observant enough to comment on Naomi’s embarrassment re the script, as if she didn’t read it beforehand and was visibley negatively reacting to the words in the take they decided to keep. Really, you are also so observant to notice differences in the magpie. How unprofessional for the director and production team to not find multiple identical birds to please a discerning viewer. Really there must be so many similar incredibly trained magpies in Australia. It’s perfectly natural for young children to one moment deal with sadness and grief and lose these concerns while enjoying play. There are many holes in your criticism and your review lacks the development and substance you demand even from minor characters. The film, certainly not perfect, is definitely worth viewing by families because of its many important generally well-developed themes and excellent and very natural performances. Thank you for recognizing Naomi’s performance. You can find more to be kind to a nice family film than to end with a comment on accents. I looked forward to reading NOW magazine TIFF comments every year while attending TIFF. This was one of the least appreciated. I and many of my grown children, grandchildren and friends and their broods like children’s fables.

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