Written by: Shaun Grant & Harry Cripps
Starring: Naomi Watts, Andrew Lincoln, Jacki Weaver, Rachel House, Leeanna Walsman
Life truly can change in an instant. Sometimes without warning but the impact will leave its mark for the rest of one’s life. Something Penguin Bloom serves as a sobering reminder as and through its melodramatic and obvious premise, it accomplishes the feat of being an emotionally engaging experience. Full of emotionally potent moments and a strong performance by a lead who has finally picked a good project, this feature hits the right spot.
After experiencing an accident leaving her paralyzed from the waist down, Sam (Naomi Watts) reckons with her new reality. While the rest of her family tries to tiptoe around her, they discover a magpie chick with an injured wing. While initially hesitant to interact with it, Sam begins to grow a bond with the animal.
Based on a true story, Penguin Bloom tackles one of my biggest personal fears of getting into an incapacitating accident, but it truly speaks on the frailness of life. Prior to the fall that left her paralyzed, she was an active mother who loved to run on the beach with her young kids and play with them. This change alters everything about her life and coming to grips with it becomes such a challenge, with reason. This film succeeds in part because it shows her struggle, but also highlights the challenge of being the family members trying to support this sad time in Sam’s life.
On the family side, this gets seen through Sam’s husband, Cameron (Andrew Lincoln), who steps up in his responsibilities around the house while also trying to be there emotionally for his hurting wife. The weight put on his shoulders gets communicated well through Andrew Lincoln’s performance and it serves as a good counterbalance to Sam’s struggles. With everything occurring and the ways Sam continually pushes everyone away, Cameron’s insistence in being there for his wife and being supportive serves as such a touching element to this story. It shows the beauty of marriage and what it means to love and to hold and for better or worse.
Sam’s particular journey with the magpie comes as quite the obvious connection as she struggles with being paralyzed and the bird having the injured wing. Even as literal as it may be, the connection makes sense, as the bird heals physically as Sam does emotionally. The relationship goes from Sam not caring for it at all to it essentially being a member of the family. They mirror each other in their development.
The other emotional element comes from a sense of guilt simmering between Sam and her son, Noah (Griffin Murray-Johnston). A type of guilt that continually permeates the mind of Noah and forms a wall between them emotionally. This becomes the largest emotional hurdle that must occur for the film, but not before Sam can find a way to reconcile things for herself personally. All handled competently well.
No one in Hollywood has such a high degree of talent but is stuck in such a horrid streak of terrible films than Naomi Watts. Someone who has dazzled when given the right material, but unfortunately this does not occur as often as it should. She does not necessarily pick a home run with this feature, but she gets to do some strong acting here. Going through the emotional roller coaster of her character here allows Watts to give a reminder of her exceptional talent level but has just had bad luck with her choices for a few years now. She emotionally anchors the film and can somehow adequately act opposite of a bird. The sequences she shares with the magpie contain beautiful sprinklings of emotions in the way they mirror each other. Serves as a wonderful reminder that Watts needs a better agent or firmer discernment in her projects seeing as she has not lost her spark as an actor.
Nothing necessarily extraordinary but certainly a film with plenty of heart filled with melodrama, Penguin Bloom puts strong Australian actors Watts and Lincoln succeeding in this inspirational story. A film about trying to overcome the mental blocks that come with traumatic events, along with the impact it has on family, and the guilt of anyone involved with it. The trauma gets helped along with the presence of this magpie and as silly as it sounds, the true story shows just how impactful the presence of an animal can be in the right circumstance.