Penguin Bloom review: Naomi Watts and a very special magpie

Anthony O'Connor
·Contributor
·3-min read

Streamer: out now in Australian cinemas

Length: 95 minutes

Score: 3/5

Magpies: beaky mongrels of the air. The worst example of Australian avian life, these winged devils lust for human scalp blood. They’ll swoop you over and over, trying to protect their gross eggs.

No one wants your stupid eggs, MAGPIES, give it a bone!

Naomi Watts in character as Sam Bloom with magpie 'Penguin'
Sam Bloom (Naomi Watts) just chilling with Penguin: the one good magpie in existence. Photo: Roadshow (supplied).

Every now and then someone, either an individual or institution tries to make the case that, actually, magpies are very nice and intelligent. These people are obviously in the pocket of Big Bird.

Which brings us, rather neatly, to Penguin Bloom. Currently the number one movie at the Australian box office, Penguin Bloom not only makes the case that magpies are pretty great, it describes the tale of a magpie giving back a woman’s will to live! Shockingly, it does a pretty convincing job.

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Penguin Bloom revolves around the Bloom family, who up until recent times had an idyllic life. The sporty, outdoorsy family of two adults and three kids lived large until an ill-fated trip to Thailand resulted in Sam Bloom (Naomi Watts) falling from a great height and becoming paralyzed for life.

Penguin Bloom really is a film a whole family can enjoy. Like a cinematic cuddle puddle. Photo: Roadshow (supplied).
Penguin Bloom really is a film a whole family can enjoy. Like a cinematic cuddle puddle. Photo: Roadshow (supplied).

Things change drastically for the family, and while husband Cameron (Andrew Lincoln) tries his best with Sam, he feels like he’s losing his wife and kids, Noah (Griffin Murray-Johnston), Rueben (Felix Cameron) and Oli (Abe Clifford-Barr) wonder where their happy mum has gone.

One day, the kids rescue a magpie chick that Noah names “Penguin” because of his colouring and decide to keep the little tacker. Initially, this enrages Sam, who is working through a lot of conflicting emotions, but against all odds she and the often mischievous maggie form a strange sort of bond. And, after a time, Penguin helps Sam to heal emotionally and later on take up kayaking as a way to regain some independence.

Penguin Bloom is essentially a family film, but it deals with some really emotionally heavy concepts. Disability, the will to live and the effect of severe trauma on the family unit are all addressed in surprisingly unflinching and sophisticated ways.

Noah (Griffin Murray-Johnston) attempts to teach Penguin how to fly. He'll be swooping you next, Noah! Photo: Roadshow (supplied).
Noah (Griffin Murray-Johnston) attempts to teach Penguin how to fly. He'll be swooping you next, Noah! Photo: Roadshow (supplied).

Naomi Watts, as always, puts in an excellent performance, but kudos goes to director Glendyn Ivin for giving the movie space for these moments to land. Andrew Lincoln also impresses, and his Aussie accent is much more convincing than his Seppo one from The Walking Dead, and the kids are uniformly solid.

Interestingly, the titular star of Penguin Bloom has probably the least to do. Sure, he jumps around getting into sticky situations, but he feels more like an afterthought. This isn’t a flick about a magical animal that saves Christmas or anything like it. This is a mostly serious film about coming back from a freak, life-changing accident.

The most extraordinary thing about Penguin Bloom, however, is that it’s based on a true story. This all really happened to the Bloom family in 2013 and most amazing of all, Sam went on to become a champion kayaker! She regained her will to live and now travels the world because of her grit and determination, which is impossible not to admire.

So, ultimately, Penguin Bloom is a family film but it’s probably not one very young, or easily distracted, kids are going to love. However for older kids, and adults who’ve remembered to bring some tissues, it’s a moving story of love and loss and the power of determination and family.

Magpies still suck, though. Penguin was clearly the exception that proves the rule. Don’t @ us.

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