There is a peaceful nature to this insulated story of family recovery, the true to life story of the Bloom family and how they move past Sam Bloom (Naomi Watts) paralysis following a fall on a holiday in Thailand with the help of a magpie they dub Penguin. Based on Sam’s husband Cameron’s book of the same name, co-authored by writer Bradley Trevor Grieve, Penguin Bloom begins upon Sam’s return home from the hospital she has spent months recovering in. While she has physically recovered she is still struggling to adjust to life in a wheelchair and no longer retaining the level of independence she was accustom to. It’s a brutal learning curve for any person and one that is never explored to the extent Sam’s story deserves here. While the adjustments Sam must handle are recreated they always seem watered down and safe, never quite hitting home the way it should as the film pulls its punches for the sake of the family orientated picture it is trying to create.
Her husband Cam (an excellent but underutilised Andrew Lincoln) and three boys Noah (Griffin Murray-Johnston), Rueben (Felix Cameron) and Oli (Abe Clifford-Barr) while present never feel represented as their experience, their struggles become lines of dialogue, never something witnessed or seen. Noah’s guilt, the guiding force of most of the films plot, never becomes a visual element instead described through voiceover, a cop out for what could have been a very real and emotional focal point. While director Glendyn Ivin makes the most out of the Australian seaside vistas and locations to add to the warmth of this family dynamic, he never explores half the family at the middle of his landscape. Penguin ultimately brings into focus the films flaws by honing in on the metaphorical elements of the Bloom’s story and what this magpie means to them instead of focusing and really seeing and displaying their pain and ultimately their triumphs, be it small moments like a trip to the coast or large ones like Sam finally gaining her confidence back in the water after surfing is stripped from her. These moments are missing context and while the idea of the Bloom’s story is one of beauty and resilience, it never really comes across, just faint hints of it.