Penguin Bloom, directed by Glendyn Ivin, is inspired by the true story of Sam Bloom (played by Naomi Watts) who goes through a tragic accident while on vacation with her husband and three kids in Thailand. As a result of the accident, she is paralyzed from the waist down and struggles to come to terms with her new reality. While her family tries to motivate her to get back to hobbies she once enjoyed, Sam Bloom stays in a state of anger and sadness. When her son Noah finds an injured magpie in their yard, the family takes the bird in and nurses it back to health. Sam takes an interest in the bird and slowly and progressively starts to get over the hurdles of her tragedy and makes a new life for herself.
While I understand and appreciate what Penguin Bloom was trying to do and say, I don’t think it ever fully got there. The film succeeds in showing the audience the despair and depression that Sam Bloom goes through. I don’t think her injury and illness are to be made light of and i don’t think it does. However, the over-simplification of her recovery process and the fact that the film attributes her progress to the bird’s presence in her life didn’t really feel right to me. It felt more like an over-dramatized version of reality. Something the director thought could resonate with Hollywood fans, when it didn’t really land that way at all for me.
An example of one of those overly dramatic scenes is when Naomi Watts’ character is still very down and she dreams about herself drowning only to wake up to the call of the bird (literally) in need. Her character also develops a strong bond with the bird, in a way that is hard to take seriously and could get very comical very fast. In my opinion, the film wanted to tell a drama of a woman’s struggle to recovery and present the bird as a metaphor and motivation for her to get better. In theory, as the bird gets better and learns to fly again, so should Sam Bloom. The problem with this trope is that the audience sees how the entire storyline will unfold within the first 15 minutes of the film.
One of the only redeeming qualities of the film was Naomi Watts’ performance. She is subtle when she needs to be and showy when the story requires it. When other elements in the film seemed too fake and unrealistic, the toll that a tragedy like this one could have on a marriage was beautifully shown. The tension between husband and wife felt real and heavy. Andrew Lincoln plays Cameron Bloom, who struggles to understand why his wife won’t turn to her past hobbies to make herself feel better. Guilt-ridden and devastated Andrew Lincoln shows a vulnerability that is required for someone in a position like that of Cameron Bloom.
All in all, I understand what this film tried to do, but feel like it never managed to deliver.