Published Feb 01, 2020In 2013, Australian outdoorsy type Sam Bloom and her husband visited Thailand with their three boys. On the first day of their trip, Sam suffered a life-changing accident when she leaned on the bar of an observation deck, which ended up being rotten. She tumbled twenty feet and wound up paralyzed. In the years to come, she befriended an injured magpie and nursed it back to health. This viral story also spurred Sam on to get out there again, becoming a two-time adaptive surfing world champion in the process.
Yes, it's an astonishing and heart-rending story — which would explain why so many people follow the Blooms on social media and bought the book Penguin Bloom when it came out. Unfortunately, however, the tale lacks its emotionally resonant punch as a film.
Starring Naomi Watts and The Walking Dead's Andrew Lincoln as the Bloom parents, Penguin Bloom's use of stunning cinematography can't stop it from feeling like a made-for-TV movie. That might be in part due to director Glendyn Ivin's TV past, but the beats of Penguin Bloom are serviceable at best and downright corny at worst.
The film takes us through Sam's harrowing story, although it's mostly focused on her recovery time after the accident has taken place. It's a familiar scene as she becomes increasingly agoraphobic, sitting around in the dark, but the arrival of the magpie affectionately named Penguin means that there are ceaseless squawks as the bird wreaks aural havoc in the house.
Further, the bird is hardly as central to the narrative as its title suggests. It's more about Sam's own emotional journey, which often feels somewhat separate from the bird. It really boils down to her desire to get back into the water, which culminates in her soaking in the water with a swim instructor (Rachel House) while she sings a moody rendition of Radiohead's "Creep" for some reason. That she would go on to achieve such great heights in the field of para surfing seems like a far more compelling story than a noisy bird and a seaside soak.
Watts offers as strong a performance as possible with the material, and Lincoln is completely fine as the husband in over his head. But Penguin Bloom does not do this story justice, as its tone is too gentle and its beats too downright boring to demonstrate the real-life triumphs that took place. (Netflix)