This uplifting feelgood drama is based on the true story of Sam Bloom (played here by Naomi Watts), a fun loving and active mother of three boys who was left paralysed following an accident during a holiday in Thailand. Unable to feel anything from the waist down and stuck in a wheelchair Sam descended into a deep well of despair and depression. Her husband Cam (Andrew Lincoln, best known for his work fighting off zombies in the TV series The Walking Dead) was left to raise their three sons and try and hold the family together.
The turning point came when the three boys brought home a baby magpie that has apparently been abandoned. The boys named the bird Penguin because she was black and white. Initially Sam was indifferent towards the newest avian member of the family, but its perseverance and intelligence soon worked their charms on Sam, and she begins to heal mentally. She embraced a new challenge and took up kayaking under the tutelage of the upbeat Gaye (Rachel House). Sam eventually went on to become a champion kayaker.
This uplifting film is based on the 2016 book detailing Sam’s experiences, and has been brought to the screen by Australian filmmaker Glendyn Ivin (Last Ride), who has spent the better part of the decade working in television, and scriptwriter Harry Cripps (who also adapted the recent The Dry). The metaphor of a bird learning to find its wings while Sam learns to cope with her disability and return to an active life is an obvious one, but thanks to Ivin’s direction the film avoids becoming overly saccharine. There are moments of darkness here, but mainly the mood is upbeat.
The ten trained magpies that play Penguin on screen throughout the film are all superb with winning personalities, although there is some CGI augmentation for some scenes. Watts delivers a superb performance here as Sam, running a gamut of emotions from anger, frustration, bitterness and despair to optimism and captures her resilient spirit. In a change of pace, Lincoln is solid and has a stoic presence as the patient Cam. Jacki Weaver is also good in a smaller role as Sam’s mother who is by turns supportive and empathetic but also exasperating. Of the three children, newcomer Griffin Murray-Johnston stands out with a mature performance as the oldest son Noah, who is consumed by guilt over his mistaken belief that he was responsible for Sam’s accident.
The film has been beautifully shot by cinematographer Sam Chiplin (Dirt Music).
Cinema is full of this sort of redemption tale of a character coming to terms with a debilitating injury, and Penguin Bloom is certainly a superior example of the genre.
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Greg King has had a life long love of films. He has been reviewing popular films for over 15 years. Since 1994, he has been the film reviewer for BEAT magazine. His reviews have also appeared in the Herald Sun newspaper, S-Press, Stage Whispers, and a number of other magazines, newspapers and web sites. Greg contributes to The Blurb on film