A family takes in an injured Magpie that makes a profound difference in their lives.
Just when you think the synopsis on IMDb should be more creative and thorough, you realize it’s correct after watching the film. Based on the book by Cameron Bloom, Harry Cripps takes the premise and spoon feeds us every step of the way, much like a mother bird with her baby would do. The parallel lines that are drawn between the injured and now paraplegic Sam (Naomi Watts) and the weak and abandoned baby Magpie couldn’t be any more clear, but knowing this is based on a true story gives what seems to be a predictable and contrived premise more credibility.
The story starts with a shudder as we see through Sam’s son’s eyes how she ended up in a wheelchair. This vivacious and incredibly athletic young mother who was the star in the family’s eyes is now relegated to being cared for as her independence is stripped away. With guilt, her son recounts his thoughts and his mother’s progress, admitting she isn’t the mother she used to be. Of course, Sam is despondent and not willing to accept her disability, but when she must watch after a baby bird her son brought home, her life changes. Yes, this sounds a little corny and it actually feels that way too as Mom and bird go through their simultaneous metamorphosis.
“Penguin Bloom” is as straight-forward a film as possible. While there are no surprises, this family-friendly film slogs along at a snail’s pace with sweet yet contrived moments sprinkled intermittently. Watts adequately portrays Sam, filled with anger, depression, and remorse and Jacki Weaver finds a way to interject a shot of energy as the overprotective mother. This isn’t exactly a riveting or captivating story, although I’m still amazed at the tricks the bird did or perhaps it was all CGI, but it is a safe family film with a few life lessons to discuss as the credits roll.
2 1/2 Stars
There’s a lot of heart in Penguin Bloom and that helps it over many of the pitfalls films of this sort are prone to. Never over-the-top or melodramatic, this is a genuine movie that never forgets the family dynamic that is at its center and never treats any of the character’s issues as if they were mere plot points but complex emotional problems to whcih there are no easy answers. Are there any surprises in the movie? Not one, but that doesn’t prevent it from being a welcome time-filler with an obvious, yet vital message.