Based on a true story, ‘Penguin Bloom‘ tells the story of Sam Bloom, who after suffering a traumatic accident finds herself searching for a reason to live. “If I can’t be a mother, then what am I?!“, she says with tears in her eyes. Glendyn Ivin‘s crowdpleasing tearjerker paints a portrait of a family overcoming fear and regain their appreciation for life when a new family member inspires every single one of them – magpie Penguin.

Oscar-nominee Naomi Watts (‘The Loudest Voice‘) is memorable in the role of Sam, delivering one of the finest performances of her career. On family holiday in Thailand, a rotted railing causes her to fall storeys down to the pavement, breaking her back and ending up paralyzed from the chest down. Back home, the family dynamic has shifted from a once happy, careless family to one where people don’t talk about their feelings anymore out of fear of hurting each other. When Sam’s oldest son brings home a stray baby magpie – whom he calls Penguin for its black-and-white feathers – Sam just doesn’t seem to want to pay it any attention. She thaws out to the helpless bird in need of care, and slowly but surely her mood changes, just like her need for positive change.

The often corny moments get replaced by emotionally remarkable scenes in which Watts gets to showcase her talent, next to a trio of promising young actors and her onscreen husband, Andrew Lincoln (‘The Walking Dead‘). Besides Sam’s household, the rest of the ensemble is just there as a plot device, wherein Oscar-nominee Jacki Weaver (‘Bloom’) plays Sam’s overprotective mother who’s subject of unnecessary cliché characteristics turning her basically into a plot device. There’s a handful of other characters that get introduced, but have no point being in the story, besides the underutilized Rachel House (‘The New Legends of Monkey‘), who as always leaves a lasting impression with her own unique way of making us smile, how small her part may be. Her rendition of Radiohead’s “Creep” while helping Watts get back used to the water (she used to surf and eventually picks up kayaking), is one of the highlights of the film.

The cinematography in ‘Penguin Bloom‘ is by far one of the strongest out of TIFF so far, where Sam Chiplin (‘Safe Harbour‘) makes use of the surroundings inside and outside the house and above all knows how to create the film’s warm atmosphere with some interesting sunlit shots that feel unique and inspired. Marcelo Zarvos‘ score is also worth mentioning as he contributes to that aforementioned atmosphere just as much, while pumping a serious dose of magic underneath the wings of this curious bird. Penguin, by the way is an essential character to the film – I mean, it is the titular character after all. Trainers and choreographers found a way to work with no less than eight magpies to have them do exactly in what made every scene so special.

Penguin Bloom‘ is a charming journey that puts a spotlight on mental and physical recovery through the eyes of different members of one family. The next Aussie-classic that will inspire an entire generation on finding strength in the most unexpected visitors, while overcoming trauma by accepting help from those around you.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Penguin Bloom is screening as part of TIFF20:
Thursday, September 17 at 8:30 pm and 9pm @ TIFF Bell Lightbox
Tickets are available HERE

TIFF20 Review – ‘Penguin Bloom’

Reviewed online (as part of Toronto International Film Festival), September 12, 2020. Rating: TBC. Running time: 95 min.

PRODUCTION: A Media Stories, Broadtalk production. Producers: Emma Cooper, Bruna Papandrea, Steve Hutensky, Jodi Matterson, Naomi Watts. Executive producers: Sonia Amoroso, George Kekeli, Meryl Metni, Ricci Swart, Sam Bloom, Cameron Bloom, Bradley Trevor Greive, Joel Pearlman, Edwina Waddy, Jill Bilcock.

CREW: Director: Glendyn Ivin. Screenplay: Shaun Grant, Harry Cripps. Editor: Maria Papoutsis. Cinematography: Sam Chiplin. Music: Marcelo Zarvos.

WITH: Naomi Watts, Andrew Lincoln, Rachel House, Jacki Weaver, Gia Carides, Leeanna Walsman, Felix Cameron, Lisa Hensley, Abe Clifford-Barr, Griffin Murray-Johnston.

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