Penguin Bloom | TIFF 2020 Review

by Andrew Parker

Corny, choppy, and mostly harmless, the inspirational drama Penguin Bloom is based on the true life story of an Australian family who slowly recover from a life altering tragedy with the help of an unlikely animal friend.

Naomi Watts stars as Sam Bloom, a woman, mother, and wife left paralyzed after an accidental fall while on a family vacation to Thailand. Sam’s increasing desperation and sadness that she can’t perform even the simplest of tasks without assistance is taking its toll on her husband (Andrew Lincoln) and three young sons. One day, the boys find an orphaned baby magpie that’s fallen out of its nest and has hurt its own back. The kids beg to keep the bird, but mom isn’t convinced until she starts developing a paternal bond of her own with the constantly chirping creature.

The performances are fine across the board, the musings on motherhood are as respectful as they are obvious, and director Glendyn Ivin has made a great looking film that captures the natural beauty (and admittedly the privilege) of the family’s daily life, but the script for Penguin Bloom is several drafts away from being a genuinely compelling story about the healing relationship between people and animals. Penguin Bloom is the type of story that has had anything remotely challenging or introspective binned off in favour of only the most heartwarming and dramatically showy moments. It doesn’t waste a lot of time, and it all goes by relatively fast, but there’s very little to show here beyond the obvious, and it’s so directionless with its message that Sam’s passion for kayaking feels just as healing as her friendship with the bird. Penguin Bloom places the cliches front and centre, amounting to the type of film that’s tailor made for a Mother’s Day trip to the cinemas.

It’s not much, but the bird is great.

Penguin Bloom screens in cinemas at the 2020 Toronto International Film Festival on Saturday, September 12 at 12:30 pm and Thursday, September 17 at 8:30 pm and 9:00 pm at TIFF Bell Lightbox. It’s also available to stream for a limited time via Bell Digital Cinema starting at 6:00 pm on Saturday, September 12. All online TIFF 2020 screenings are geolocked to Canada. If seeing a film in cinemas, please exercise proper precautions. Practice social distancing, wear a mask, and stay home if you feel under the weather.

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