Thud… an accidental fall, well, one moment can change things forever. But as adventure-addict Samantha Bloom (Naomi Watts), who loves to surf, finds herself confined to a wheelchair; she just can’t take in what hit her. And she hits out at a honey jar, old photographs encapsulating her wanderer spirit. Wallowing in self-pity and seething with anger, she draws curtains and shuts off what life can still offer. For her loving family (husband Cameron Bloom and three sons) is not far away.
Based on a true story, a book by the same name, Penguin Bloom, written by Cameron Bloom and Bradley Trevor Greive, is as much about relationships human beings share with each other as with a bird. How a magpie her children adopt becomes a source of hope and inspiration for Sam is in nutshell the story around which Penguin Bloom revolves. Life’s lessons can come from the smallest of things. In Sam’s case it’s this magpie, whom her son Noah (heart-tugging Griffin Murray-Johnston) decides to call penguin simply because it’s black and white. Slowly the bird becomes one of her reasons to reconnect with life and her family.
Shot in the picturesque environs of Australia, you soak in the beauty of nature. Though the film had a limited theatrical release (was shown in Australia), even the small screen of television can’t mar the allure of azure beaches as it streams on Netflix. Like the panoramic views around her house, you see Sam’s pain too. Only can’t feel it as strongly. However, you do feel the love of a husband Cameron (Andrew Lincoln), who has his hands full. He has to step in as a caretaker of the house, mop a river of vomit, take children to a picnic, rustle up their lunches and help his wife overcome negativity.
Like her who quips, “If I can’t be a mum to my children what am I,” he too is struggling as he says, “I don’t know whether to be too sad around my sons or too happy around Sam.” Even the affections of a cynical mother (Jacki Weaver) are palpable. So is the underlying message. If an injured magpie can learn to fly why can’t human beings surmount obstacles? Sam surely does, even if slightly latter than sooner with generous help from her husband who channelises her love for water towards kayaking. Though the narrative climaxes with her regaining her lost spirit, we do learn about her achievements at the World Para Surfing Championships in the final credits, making us smile.
The Penguin Bloom is no doubt an inspirational tale but one that seems a bit stilted in its cinematic adaptation. The matter of fact treatment despite remarkable cinematography stops it from becoming a truly uplifting experience. It is real and not Hollywood, as the real Blooms expected and wanted. So don’t expect dramatic turns and twists. There is no unnecessary bravado or brouhaha and the film remains a simple and authentic retelling of a real-life account.
Performances, despite a star like Naomi at the centre of it, are real, credible and effective, and the family feels like any of us. The relatability quotient, however, grounds the narrative instead of making it soar or bloom. Nevertheless at one hour 35 minutes, it is a decent watch and doesn’t weigh heavy on either your time or senses.