After suffering an accident that leaves her paralyzed from the waist down, a woman begins to recover with the help of her family and… from an injured bird. With Naomi Watts, Andrew Lincoln and Jacki Weaver.
But I’m a creep/I’m a weirdo“Says the Radiohead song that Sam Bloom (Naomi Watts) sings with a physical therapist who works with her underwater. It is not a pool or a bathtub but the Australian sea, on the coast, in the middle of a beautiful landscape. Sam has had quite a difficult last few months of life. A nice, funny, kind woman, married and mother of three, lover of the sea and surfing, was the victim of an absurd accident during a family vacation in Thailand. The woman leaned against a railing that broke, fell many feet high and was paralyzed from the waist down. Since then, it is not the same. Not only physically, but he suffers a crisis that almost does not allow him to leave his room. He also reacts very badly with everything and against everyone.
Told from the point of view of Noah (Griffin Murray-Johnston), one of his sons, PENGUIN BLOOM is based on an autobiographical book co-written by Cameron Bloom (performed here by Andrew Lincoln, from THE WALKING DEAD), who is the wife’s husband. The film starts from the accident in question and can be clearly divided into two parts. The first is linked to Sam’s difficulties and impossibilities, his personal crisis, his suffering, the way his children look at him, distraught and in pain, not knowing what to do and – in Noah’s case – even blaming himself for what happened. . Sam cannot assume her new condition and is constantly violent, with herself and with others.
The second part of the film appears in a somewhat casual way, almost as a possible salvation. And this is where the viewer must decide whether or not this is tolerable for their level of “sentimentality.” Noah discovers a bird – a magpie, more precisely – injured and takes it home to heal it. Little by little, the magpie in question will improve and the family will adopt it as their own, giving it a name and everything: Penguin. Sam doesn’t pay attention to her at first (in fact, she’s bothered by her noises and dirt), then she wants to be let go as soon as she’s healed but, finally, well, you can imagine what happens …
It’s not, strictly speaking, a movie about how an injured magpie heals a paralyzed woman (it sounds like a television sketch of a tear-jerker drama, I know), but it’s not far from it. What takes it out of the most absolute banality are the performances of its leading cast, the tone at times crude and at other times humorous that the film has during its first hour and some narrative circumstances that should not be anticipated. There is an “Australianness” in the presentation of the drama (frontal, direct, without excessive low blows) that keeps it afloat even in the moments that border the cringe, as it is called now –translating it from English– to what we used to know as «other people’s shame».
Watts, Lincoln and the ever-magnetic Jacki Weaver – who plays Sam’s unbearable mother – do their best to bring out a concept only suitable for fans of what used to be called «Movie of the week«. Can a relationship with a “wounded bird” help an injured person regain his will to live? Yes, I know, as a metaphor it sounds like a dozen cliches all put together at the same time. And the best that can be said for PENGUIN BLOOM is that he avoids at least five or six of those clichés. The others are there, in full view of everyone. It is up to each viewer to decide how many they can live with, get excited and not laugh at it.
It is that, deep down, the film is more than anything about the relationship between a mother and her child, with the bird in question as a narrative resource. It is a paralysis that is physical, emotional and also temporary, since neither Sam’s head nor Noah’s can get out of reviewing the accident over and over again. But things will get better, the music will go higher and higher, the sunsets and sunrises in front of the beach will become more ocher and the sea will be blue again. And tears will be unavoidable, bad for those of us who have a low tolerance for excess saccharin but we let ourselves be carried away by emotion.