Written by: Adam Vaughn | January 26th, 2021
Penguin Bloom (Glendyn Ivin, 2020) 2½ out of 4 stars.
What better movie to be released in our current climate than one filled with themes of isolation and entrapment, both physically and emotionally? In comes Glendyn Ivin’s Penguin Bloom, a story that’s both inspiring and inconsistent. It tells the tale of Sam (Naomi Watts, Luce), a mother and wife who experiences a life-threatening accident that leaves her a paraplegic. As Sam struggles to cope with her new life situation, in comes a perky, cute little magpie bird, who’s also suffered an injury to its wings, and the two begin to form a bond as they help each other find the best and strongest versions of themselves.
Director Ivin immediately forms a concrete tone for his film, giving weight to (and consistently revisiting) the themes of helplessness, finding strength in adversity, and learning to reconnect with the ones closest to you through your struggles. Penguin Bloom is led by a strong, impactful performance by both Watts and Walking Dead star Andrew Lincoln (as Sam’s husband, Cameron), who bring their A-game while complimenting each other dynamically throughout the duration. The film also contains tremendous cinematography and framing, balancing exquisite and powerful dream scenes with the main storyline to create a fully functioning aesthetic. Certainly, Ivin’s film succeeds in engaging the audience when at its emotional peaks, both in times of overbearingness and those of joy and ambition.
Unfortunately, Penguin Bloom takes perhaps the most muddy, disinteresting moments of real-life character Sam Bloom’s story (she would later go on to be a professional kayaker and surfer), and delves repetitively into the intimate moments of her life too many times to keep the audience invested. The film’s pace comes to a frustrating halt, at times, playing on the repetition of Sam’s grief and depression (which in itself is effective, but overused) and not building up to the sense of hope that the film ever so wants to end on. The bouncy, fun character of Penguin, the magpie, brings tremendous comedic relief at times, uplifting the story even when we as the viewer feel like we’re slogging through a plotline that brings both sadness and boredom, simultaneously. Still, even the titular role tends to compete with who is supposed to be the true protagonist in the story, stealing some of the thunder and leaving Watts to compete with a magpie as much as perform alongside it, pulling from her character development.
Learning the true story of Sam Bloom only brings more disappointment to the full potential Penguin Bloom could have brought to the screen. One can picture moments of victory and triumph for a main character who’s journey started with pain and hopelessness, and finished with Olympic-level victory, with the wings of a beautiful magpie soaring over a champion kayaker in the middle of Thailand’s seas. Unfortunately, Ivin chooses to focus on moments of the Bloom story that are the least satisfying, and indefinitely redundant by the midpoint of the film, let alone by the film’s conclusion. I can see the content of Penguin Bloom serving well as a short, prelude episode to what’s to come for Sam Bloom, but as a full-length feature portraying her life and struggle, it does the real-life characters a small bit of injustice.