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Directed by Glendyn Ivin
Written by Harry Cripps and Shaun Grant
Produced by Emma Cooper, Steve Hutensky, Bruna Papandrea and Naomi Watts
Starring Naomi Watts, Andrew Lincoln, Jacki Weaver, Rachel House, Griffin Murray-Johnston, Felix Cameron and Abe Clifford-Barr
Skippy, Storm Boy, Dot and the Kangaroo, Phar Lap, Babe, Oddball and Rams. Australia has long had an affinity for screen animals, but who would have thought that Penguin Bloom, a bloody swoopy boi, would dive in to take the mantle from movie mutt Red Dog as our new favourite modern-day celluloid critter.
Sure, Magpies have a reputation as one of Australia’s most feared birds, especially when protecting their young, but any fear you have will be forgotten as you watch this adorable maggie hop, skip and fumble her way through the Bloom household, helping the family navigate their way through a recent tragedy.
Penguin Bloom is based on the true story of the Bloom family. When mother Sam (Naomi Watts), is left paralysed after falling from a balcony in Thailand, the family struggle during the early stages of their new way of life. That is until the young family adopts an injured maggie they name Penguin. As they nurture Penguin, or Peng, back to health, the family’s bond becomes stronger as they begin their own journey of recovery.
Penguin Bloom is aimed at families, but it rarely drifts into familiar family film territory and is grittier, edgier and less clichéd than something like the aforementioned Red Dog – also based on a true story. Everyone in this family is hurting, and Peng feels every bit of their pain as she soaks up the energy flowing through the hallways of the Bloom household and the emotions of its occupants.
As a viewer, my sorrow for the Bloom’s predicament turned to happiness the moment Peng appeared on screen. It has been proven that animals help heal the wounded, and the undeniable healing power of our feathered friends is on full display in Penguin Bloom.
The entire cast is impressive, especially the three young boys who are all acting on screen for the first time. If you’ve seen photos and videos of the real Sam Bloom, you’ll know Naomi Watts embodies this inspiring figure without fault. Jacki Weaver has a minor role in the film, but she impacts every scene as over-the-top and unfiltered grandmother, Jan. “You’re not a spastic!” she bellows shamelessly at Sam’s refusal to park in an ACROD parking bay.
I loved almost everything about Penguin Bloom, but if I could single out any frustrations it would be the outdoor scenes. They’re draped in so much overexposed sunlight that it takes you away from the positive message those scenes are trying to convey. Hollywood heavy-weight Zack Snyder would be proud of the excessive use of lens flares here.
Powered by an unfathomable tragedy, director Glendyn Irvin and screenwriters Harry Cripps (who’s on a roll at the moment having also written The Dry) and Shaun Grant (True History of the Kelly Gang) have delivered a powerful and uplifting story told with simplicity, grace and a deep respect for their subject. Penguin Bloom inspires.
Penguin Bloom is in cinemas January 21.