TL;DR – A beautifully charming film that will make you feel a lot of emotions
Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene
Penguin Bloom Review –
You may have many fears, some might be more obvious like spiders or heights, but others are deeper down like what if you were in a crash and became paralysed. This fear is at the heart of the film we are looking at today as we see the aftereffects of this profound change.
So to set the scene, we open with Noah Bloom (Griffin Murray-Johnston) giving a rundown of his life. It is full of living on the beach, going for a surf, and making honey as a family. However, on a fateful trip to Thailand, Sam Bloom (Naomi Watts), her husband Cameron (Andrew Lincoln), and their three kids Noah, Rueben (Felix Cameron), and Oli (Abe Clifford-Barr) were climbing up to the top of a building to get a look of the view. However, when Sam leans on a fence, some rotten wood gives way, and she falls over the edge to the concrete below. Back at home, Sam is trying to adjust to her life in a wheelchair, but as Noah is down the beach, he finds a magpie chick that had fallen out of a nest who they take home and call Penguin.
Because of local restrictions, I watched this film in a mask, which might have been a good idea because it hid a lot of my ugly crying throughout this film. When this film hits, it hits hard, which makes it a difficult watch at times. A lot of that comes down to the performances from across the cast. You feel the anger, pain, and guilt that Sam lives with every day and the frustration about being so close to her old life yet so far. The reminders of what she could do are all around her, and people can’t understand why she’d close the curtains and sit in the darkness.
This pain extends to the rest of the family in different ways. Cameron just does not know what to do as he is stuck between the boys and Sam’s competing needs. Ruben and Oli are old enough to know things have changed but not know how to process the change. In contrast, Noah is old enough to process everything that is happening with all the guilt that comes with it. It is a recipe for disaster, not helped by well-meaning but a not helpful grandmother Jan (Jacki Weaver), making it the perfect/worst time to introduce a baby magpie into the mix.
I am honestly interested to see how much the film was using real magpies, and how much was created digitally. Form the credits, we know they did use several birds in the production, but I am not sure in what way. However, as someone who has nesting magpies living nearby, they have entirely nailed baby/adolescent magpies’ vocalisations. They are needy and loud and make sure that everyone knows about it. Penguin is integrated well into the film, which is essential for the thematic impact.
While I found the film engaging, it was not without its issues. Part of this comes from the translation from a person’s real-life to a movie script. This means that a lot of the story is condensed to fit into a standard three-act narrative. Instead of the subtext of the bird becoming a symbol for Sam’s struggles, there are times when it becomes the literal text and feels forced. As well as that, there was something about Andrew Lincoln’s performance that just didn’t work for me. However, thankfully the point where I was starting to disengage with the film’s narrative is when Rachel House’s Gaye appears and brings new life to the film. This includes a musical piece I was not expecting and brought tears to my eyes while I desperately stopped myself singing along in the cinema.
In the end, do we recommend Penguin Bloom? Yes, yes we do. It is not a perfect film, and it gets frustrating when they explicitly explain to the audience rather than trust them to get what is happening. However, the film’s emotional component is always strong, and I still got caught in the emotional beats. If you liked Penguin Bloom, I would also recommend to you Babyteeth.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Penguin Bloom
Directed by – Glendyn Ivin
Written by – Shaun Grant & Harry Cripps
Based on – Penguin Bloom by Cameron Bloom & Bradley Trevor Greive
Music by – Marcelo Zarvos
Cinematography by – Sam Chiplin
Edited by – Maria Papoutsis
Production/Distribution Companies – Screen Australia, Endeavor Content, Create NSW, Made Up Stories, Jam Tart Films, Broadtalk & Roadshow
Starring – Naomi Watts, Andrew Lincoln, Griffin Murray-Johnston, Felix Cameron, Abe Clifford-Barr, Jacki Weaver, Rachel House, Leeanna Walsman & Lisa Hensley
Rating – Australia: M;