Released: 21st January
Seen: 28th June
So, here’s a fun number for you. 29. That is the amount of Australian produced films that were released in Australia in 2020, according to Screen Australia. Specifically, this includes Aussie co-productions and it’s a list that is… well, let’s put it this way, I literally try and review every film that comes out and I’m confident I missed most of these films.
In fact, going over this list (which I’ve linked to because it’s amazingly sad) I saw 5 Aussie films that were released in 2020, specifically The Invisible Man, Go!, True History Of The Kelly Gang, Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears and Bloody Hell. I actively try to see everything and I saw 1 out of every 6 films my own country produced last year. That’s cos our industry isn’t as strong as it used to be so that’s why this year, I haven’t had a chance to review many of them… hell, the last one before today’s film that I got to review was The Dry.
Anyway, that’s why I don’t do more local content, because there isn’t much of it… and now, Penguin Bloom.
Based on the novel of the same name (which was inspired by the real story of the Bloom family), Penguin Bloom follows a family of five known as the Blooms. They live a fairly nice life until a trip to Thailand goes horribly wrong when the mother Sam Bloom (Naomi Watts) falls from a roof and breaks her back. Now wheelchair-bound, Sam becomes withdrawn from her family, particularly her husband Cameron (Andrew Lincoln) and son Noah (Griffin Murray-Johnston), and has trouble adapting to her new life.
While this is going on, Noah happens upon an injured baby magpie who he names Penguin and tries to nurse back to health. Slowly Penguin becomes a beloved family pet and seems to have a particular ability to make Sam feel better the more time they spend together. What follows is a simple little story about a family pet who teaches the family how to grow and move on with their lives after a shocking event.
In terms of family dramas, Penguin Bloom is one of the simpler ones. A very easy to follow story, told through a combination of narration by Noah, occasional flashbacks and the odd dreamlike imagery. The flashback sequences to the accident that put Sam in her wheelchair are incredibly careful, refraining from showing the full impact and physical damage caused until the exact moment needed to sell one of the key ideas of Penguin Bloom, namely how a child will take accountability for something they didn’t do.
Possibly the biggest emotional through-line for Penguin Bloom is Noah’s belief that he’s responsible for Sam’s injury since Noah was the one who leads his family up to the area that Sam fell from and watching this sweet child slowly deal with his own trauma by taking care of this injured magpie is compelling as hell. The only reason that all the focus isn’t on this child the entire film is because Naomi Watts is on-screen delivering a powerhouse performance with every second she has on-screen.
If you are the kind of person who’ll watch a movie for a single performance, Naomi is delivering the kind of performance in Penguin Bloom that’s just glorious to watch. Witnessing Sam trying to cope with this drastic life-changing event is powerful, your heart breaks for her when she just can’t handle being around people and you want to cheer when she finally has the emotional strength to go outside. It’s the performance that holds Penguin Bloom together, taking you on a roller coaster with just a few looks.
Penguin Bloom is also just gorgeous, utilising the seaside landscape to great effect and knowing exactly when to cut to a dream-like sequence. It’s also precise in what it shows, as evidenced by how it handles the accident that starts everything off. At first it only shows a broken barrier, more than enough to tell people what happened, right up until they need to show more so you know what certain characters saw and then it gets a lot more intense. It’s clever and careful in what it shows, allowing the story to unfold naturally.
Penguin Bloom is simple but effective, with a compelling story full of interesting characters. There’s enough charm here to show just what Australian film can still accomplish when given the chance. It’s a film so clever that it can make a magpie look sweet and innocent, and any Aussie will tell you how those birds are the devil (intelligent as hell, no doubt about it, but they will take your eyes and skull as a trophy if they can). If this film can turn a magpie into a sweet innocent creature then it can definitely give you a good time.