In 2013, Samantha Bloom (Naomi Watts), her husband Cameron (Andrew Lincoln), and their three sons left their home in Australia for a holiday in Thailand. While enjoying a view, Sam fell off of a rooftop due to what was later determined to be a rotted railing… breaking her vertebrae in two places. Paralyzed from the chest down, Sam — a lifelong outdoorswoman, surfer, and traveler — was unrecognizable to herself and spent long months in a depression that made her question who she could be in the world and in her own family.
A year later, her children brought home a wounded baby magpie they found. Warily eyeing the black-and-white bird the kids affectionately named “Penguin,” Sam bonded with the household’s new member, beginning a process of emotional healing that surprised her husband and sons, her mother (Jacki Weaver), and herself. Penguin Bloom tells the story of renewal that occurred when a woman whose life seemed shattered found hope and purpose in her family’s love — and in a bird on its own journey of recovery.
At first, Penguin Bloom is compelling and has a remarkably strong start. It begins with tragedy and heartbreak and it reels you into this seemingly dreary world and leaves you wondering about a lot of things. How will these kids’ lives be affected by Sam’s painful fall? How will Sam’s life change? Their world gets flipped upside down in ways that they do not see coming.
When Sam first spends time with Penguin, she doesn’t really feel too happy about the bird. It’s constant sounds annoy Sam to no end and she can’t get any sleep because of it. But as soon as she starts to take care of the bird and spend more time with Penguin, she finds that she genuinely loves taking care of it and she is happy to welcome a new member to the Bloom family.
But as cute and as adorable as that may sound, it never comes across that way with this script. It feels disappointingly flat and underdeveloped in plenty of ways. We don’t really get to learn that much about Sam and the family, despite the fact that we spend nearly every scene with them. Instead of feeling like we know them by the end of the movie, they feel like complete strangers that we just happened to watch for a while. It’s a strange feeling and one that definitely needed more work.
The script just simply didn’t explore these characters at all. While it was definitely uplifting to see Sam and the family form such a strong love for Penguin, that’s really all the movie has to offer. It’s also weird that the film tries to be so many different things. It tries to be a coming-of-age story, a romance, a drama, and a comedy all in one, and it just felt way too convoluted.
Admittedly, the performances from the central cast are quite great and they all feel like they had a great amount of fun with their roles here. Naomi Watts gives a quiet and subdued performance yet it never feels weak or understated. She is excellent in the role and definitely gives it her all and it shows.
Plus, it’s always great to see Andrew Lincoln deliver a strong performance as usual. I’ve been a fan of his ever since The Walking Dead first aired all the way back in 2010 and I’ve since grown to love the vast majority of his work immensely. His performance in this movie did not let me down.
If you’re a massive animal lover and want to watch a movie about an adorable bird being adopted into a loving and welcoming household, then you’ll probably get quite a bit of enjoyment out of Penguin Bloom. But those that are looking for something more intricate and deep will be let down.
Overall Grade: C-
MPAA Rating: TV-14
Directed by: Glendyn Ivin
Distributed by: Netflix
Release Date: January 27, 2021
Running Time: 95 minutes