2021, Unrated, 95 mins
Naomi Watts as Sam Bloom / Andrew Lincoln as Cameron Bloom / Jacki Weaver as Jan / Rachel House as Gaye Hatfield / Gia Carides as Megan / Leeanna Walsman as Kylie / Lisa Hensley as BronDirected by Glendyn Ivin / Written by Harry Cripps and Shaun Grant, based on the book by Cameron Bloom and Bradley Trevor Greive
If the new Australian-American Netflix produced drama PENGUIN BLOOM wasn't based on a true story then I would have had an awfully hard time swallowing it.
Adapted from the
2016 photography book of the same name by Cameron Bloom and Bradley Trevor
Grieve, the film chronicles the reality based tale a family from Down
Under whose wife/mother suffers from a tragic accident that causes partial
paralysis, leading to all of them trying to cope and move on as best as
they can. They all then
befriend an injured magpie chick and nurse it back to health and, in the
process, emotionally heal their own wounded souls.
So, yeah, all of this sounds frankly ludicrous and could have been
played out for maximum syrupy melodrama, but the approach here is so noble
minded and thanklessly performed that it helps to keep everything
emotionally grounded and dramatically authentic.
Naomi Watts (also
serving as producer here) stars as Sam, who lives with her photographer
husband Cameron (Andrew Lincoln) and their three children.
We very quickly learn of the particulars of the aforementioned
accident that horribly befalls Sam during a vacation in Thailand: She
leans up against hotel patio guard rails (that are not particularly
intact) and takes a brutal fall several meters below, breaking her back in
the progress. Sam survives the hellish ordeal, but emerges from it paralyzed
from the chest down, leaving her husband and kids tending to her daily
needs. All of this is gut
wrenching for the once free-spirited Sam, who once relished her physical
freedom and beach front lifestyle, but now is stuck in a wheelchair and
facing massive uphill battles everyday just to get out of bed and lead
some semblance of a normal life. Cameron
and the children try as they can to ensure that Sam has everything she
requires at her disposal, but deep down she still suffers from deep mental
scars that don't appear to have healed at all...and perhaps never will.
Fate steps with
that injured magpie, which is first discovered by the children and they
make it their new mission to ensure this exotic bird's survival.
Cameron seems receptive to the idea of the family having a new pet,
of sorts, but the reclusive and miserable Sam - initially, at least -
wants absolutely nothing to do with another wounded member of her clan
that needs constant daily care. Plus,
the hurt bird chirps...all...the...time...and when it's not
chirping it's getting into all kinds of inappropriate mischief around the
house. Regardless of how
utterly annoying this bird is to Sam, her kids love it all the same and
incongruently name it "Penguin" (mostly because its markings
bare a resemblance to the arctic flightless bird).
When the family leaves home on business one day Sam finds herself
all alone with Penguin, but she soon realizes that she's going to have to
find a way to cohabitate with it to preserve her sanity.
And - wouldn't ya know it! - she begins to compassionately
relay deep empathy from the creature's wounded plight, which seems like a
mirror reflection of her own. Like
a new surrogate mother, Sam begins to bond with Penguin in surprising
ways, which gives her life a newfound purpose.
fine nuance and tact by Glendyn Ivin, PENGUIN BLOOM pulls off a very
tricky balancing act throughout. This
film could have laid on the sweetness to annoying cavity inducing levels,
and Penguin is definitely an adorable animal here.
Mercifully, the film never gets caught up in such creative traps
and instead manages to also find a way of tapping into the inherent
darkness of Sam's accident and her current fractured psyche, and it
doesn't shy away from showing her at her worst.
There are times early on when Sam is almost insufferable to bare as
someone that has simply giving up on nearly everything and would just
rather stay bed ridden every day. She has experienced unspeakable trauma, to be sure, but you
can relate to her inner torment and lack of desire to take on any new
responsibilities at home in terms of tending to the needs of a bird.
But the more time Sam spends with Penguin the more it opens up to
her a new world of possibilities in terms of helping it - and herself -
heal for the better. Again,
this is an inordinately weird premise as far as movies go, but there's a
reasonably level of psychological grit to the proceedings that make Sam's
journey feel all the more genuine and compelling to take.
And Watts - God
love her - pulls off a small
performance miracle here in terms of nailing the physicality (or lack thereof)
of this indefinitely injured and immobile woman while also evoking all of
her pain and misery in trying to deal with the rotten hand that life dealt
her. I appreciated how
strongly understated her work is here without drawing to much needless
attention to it (which is oftentimes the case with able bodied
Oscar-grabbing actors playing disabled roles); she just sort of inhabits
the role of Sam and lives within each moment of her days throughout the
film. When she does start to have a spiritual awakening it's far
easier to buy into it and develop a rooting interest for her because she
seems like a credibly layered character.
Watts is complimented by the equally fine work by Andrew Lincoln,
who displays solid chemistry with his co-star and makes their marriage
simmer with such an intimate veracity.
In many respects, Cameron is trying to heal as well, seeing as he
has done just about everything for his wife with often failed results to
re-ignite a spark in her, and witnessing her wither away is a different
kind of burden. It's
admirable that PENGUIN BLOOM doesn't go out of its way to show this family
unit as squeaky clean and without tensions or friction.