When Sam Bloom (Naomi Watts) fell from the balcony of her family’s holiday home in Thailand, leaving her paralysed, the successful mother-of-three thought she would never get her life back. Penguin Bloom is the story of Sam’s arduous road to recovery and the magpie which became an unlikely, but much-needed, companion.
If that premise sounds a little formulaic, Penguin Bloom never transcends the modest ambitions it sets for itself. Despite stellar work from Watts that has come to be an expectation, director Glendyn Ivin is unable to lift the rest of his film above just okay. File it under “Naomi Watts Outdoes All Others”, an increasingly substantial list which also includes King Kong, J Edgar, The Impossible, Diana, The Book of Henry and too many more.
Penguin Bloom isn’t nearly as bad as some of those, mind. It is beautifully photographed and does involve Andrew Lincoln in something which isn’t The Walking Dead, which is good to see. And the parallels between Sam and another flightless bird, which her children name Penguin, are poignant enough. Overall, Ivin’s film does what you expect it to — which, if you’re into that sort of thing, will be enjoyable enough.
But it doesn’t go much further. Stilted dialogue (“You’re still you, Sam.”) and predictable plot movements make Penguin Bloom easily forgettable. The idyllic family at its core, moreover, is a little hard to believe. Prosperous and well-attached they may be, but the scale of the trauma effects never quite feel fleshed out. The film tries to add occasional depth to its ensemble — and generally succeeds when it does — but not frequently enough. Sam remains the sole character to go on a journey of her own, and even then isn’t written with much pizzazz.
Sometimes a deference to the messy truthfulness of a story can limit its dramatic ambitions. Penguin Bloom very much feels like one of those, which would benefit from some embellishment (or even a subplot) in order to raise the stakes a little.
Nevertheless, a moving lead performance and consistently wonderful visuals make Penguin Bloom a good movie, if not quite a great one.