This film was previously reviewed in September 2020 as part of our TIFF coverage.

After becoming paraplegic following an accident during a family holiday in Thailand, adventurous Sam Bloom (Naomi Watts) struggles to grasp what the future will look like for herself, her husband and their three kids. Fluctuating between violent fits of anger and tortuous displays of despair, the former nurse dwells on memories of past joys while her family carefully tiptoes around words unsaid. When the children bring home an injured magpie, fondly named Penguin, the matriarch rapidly develops an unexpected bond with the curious animal. 

Based on a true story, Penguin Bloom attempts to evoke the tender poignancy of the Blooms’ hit Instagram page turned bestseller. In Penguin, Sam finds an outlet for the motherly duties she believed she was no longer capable of fulfilling. While nurturing this small creature, so deeply dependent on her care, the woman regains not only her identity as a mother but also as a nurse, integral parts of her sense of self she so desperately longed for. 

Here, there is a lingering sense of impending catharsis that never fully achieves completion. Director Glendyn Ivin seems committed to building a tear-jerking resilience drama instead of allowing the already endearing nature of the premise some room to breathe. Watts, echoing the aforementioned sentiment, is overshadowed by newcomer Griffin Murray-Johnston as Sam’s eldest son, Noah, and the always great Rachel House as lively kayak instructor Gaye. 

Despite its constant reflection on life with a disability, from the difficulties surrounding the smallest of daily tasks to the complexity of issues surrounding identity, Penguin Bloom is regretfully shallow in its exploration of the subject. Mistaking mawkishness for taking a stance, the film is at its strongest when it portrays the tender, loving moments shared by the Blooms and their atypical pet. When together, they lovingly embody the unique form of peace that can only be achieved through sheer contentedness. 



CAST: Naomi Watts, Andrew Lincoln, Griffin-Murray Johnston, Rachel House

DIRECTOR: Glendyn Ivin

WRITERS: Cameron Bloom, Harry Kripps

SYNOPSIS: A family takes in an injured Magpie that makes a profound difference in their lives.