Penguin Bloom

TIFF 2020: Penguin Bloom Review

The title might already be taken, but it’s a shame they didn’t release Penguin Bloom as The Thieving Magpie. A cackling bird totally steals the show from Naomi Watts in this well-intentioned portrait of a woman at a crossroads. Watts gives an admirable performance as Sam Bloom, an active Aussie and mother of three who struggles with depression after an accident paralyses her. However, while Watts honours her true-life counterpart, the magpie playing the titular Penguin is truly off the hook. Penguin’s performance flips the bird to Watts as it gives the breakout performance of the Toronto International Film Festival. Penguin is this year’s Uggie.

 

The bad news for the little magpie, however, is that Penguin Bloom is hardly The Artist. In one of TIFF’s more unfortunately forgettable entries this year, Penguin provides an obvious and ham-fisted metaphor for Sam’s road to recovery. Sam won’t even hide how dejected, cheated, and broken she feels after the accident changes her life. When her son Noah (Griffin Murray-Johnston) brings home a wounded magpie and begs to keep it, Sam can’t help but see herself in the winged creature. Noah does too, since he blames himself for his mother’s accident and uses the bird to atone.

 

Penguin Bloom Clips Its Wings

 

However, becomes the medicine that the Bloom family needs. He brings sparks of excitement to the home, enlivening it when Sam’s dejectedness becomes a vacuum for her family’s joy. Sam’s husband (Andrew Lincoln) tries his best but frays his nerves as he refuses to accept her need to grieve her broken body. Penguin keeps them on their toes as he mends his own body and readies his strength to fly. He poops everywhere and cackles with joy while nudging Sam to spread her own wings. He makes the formerly sporty Sam active again as she chases him around the house when her kids are at home. The bird has keen intuition and checks in on Sam whenever she needs moral support.

 

The bird ultimately distracts, however, from what should be a compelling story. Penguin Bloom straddles inadvertent comedy as the magpie’s lively and spunky attitude chews the scenery, overshadowing even the likes of Jacki Weaver as Bloom’s boozy mother. His ability to steal the scene speaks to Watts’ refusal to lapse into the clichéd histrionics that often befall performances of people with disabilities. She never overplays it. Penguin Bloom could have easily fallen into Oscar-grubbing theatrics. While Watts is respectful of Sam Bloom’s story, the film doesn’t quite know what movie it wants to be. The cute and affable birdie treads children’s fodder and, as a result, delivers a biopic that’s more awkward than inspiring.

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Penguin Bloom premiered at TIFF 2020.

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