Movie Review: Netflix’s ‘Penguin Bloom’ shines

Bill Gordon, Contributor

Photo via Roadshow Films

As we search for normalcy to get us through winter and the remainder of this stage of the COVID-19 pandemic, streaming services have become a major part of many people’s lives.

Many studios are moving forward with “theatrical” releases at home as everyone adapts.
In an effort to contribute to that normalcy, Valley Sentinel will endeavor to include reviews of trending, classic or otherwise interesting pieces of art or media to inspire. Feel free to send along your contributions.

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Ready for a drama down under? “Penguin Bloom” (directed by Glendyn Ivin, 2020) takes place in Australia and is based on the true story of Sam Bloom (Naomi Watts), a wife and mother of three whose emotional recovery from her traumatic life-changing accident is aided by an injured magpie.

The magpie is named “Penguin” by the boys after its black and white color. (Thus, becoming Penguin Bloom). Ten different birds are used to play Penguin throughout the film. Whereas Sam feels her family and friends can’t really understand what she is going through, she develops a kinship with the bird, who is also going through a period of healing. Sam’s husband Cameron (Andrew Lincoln of Walking Dead fame) and oldest son Noah (Griffin Murray-Johnson), must deal with a multitude of emotions as they adapt to a wife and mother (movingly portrayed by Watts) that is despondent about her inability to be the person she was before the accident.

Adopted from a 2017 book by Cameron Bloom, the film is rich in symbolism and has a smartly written screenplay. Stunning cinematography captures the spectacular shoreline of Palm Beach, located in northern Sydney where the family lives. Many scenes of their cliff side house were filmed at the real Bloom’s home, which has a flat rooftop where the boys have reckless fun diving off onto a large trampoline below.

I’ll confess, given the choice between a movie with a dark or serious subject matter and say… an action thriller, I’ll almost always choose the action thriller. I like a positive escape and I like it when the good guts prevail. With Penguin Bloom however, there’s just enough levity between the inane dialogue between the little boys, “it’s your fart,” and the amusing antics of the Magpie to balance and neutralize the gripping impact of Sam’s injury, and it works.

This story is about pain and loss and guilt, and ultimately—healing. There are some very stirring moments in this film. Naomi Watts is terrific, and Penguin Bloom takes us on a journey that delivers an inspiring and uplifting message.
5/5 stars.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Penguin Bloom” is available for viewing on Netflix now.

Further Reading: The Magpie

The Australian magpie has a central role in the movie Penguin Bloom, reviewed in today’s Valley Sentinel. Prior to watching the movie, I wasn’t familiar with magpies, and after seeing such a well-trained actor-bird, I felt compelled to learn more about them, and found myself enjoying the slippery-slope of online magpie research—a surprisingly rich topic. Here are a few fun facts about magpies to accompany Bill Gordon’s review.  

  • Magpie’s are predominantly found in temperate areas of Europe, Asia and western North America. I’ve never seen one in Wisconsin. 
  • They are considered to be highly intelligent and are one of the few non-mammal species able to recognize itself in a mirror. 
  • The name magpie dates back to Old English, when birds were often given common names such as Robin Redbreast and Jenny Wren. It’s thought magpie was originally called Maggie Pie or Mag Pie.
  • Lewis and Clark first encountered magpies in 1804 in South Dakota. They reported the birds as being bold scavengers, much like Penguin is in the movie. 
  • In East Asian culture, the magpie is a popular bird, considered a symbol of good luck. The Asian magpie is the national symbol of Korea. 
  • Rossini’s opera, “La Gazza Ladra” (The Thieving Magpie) reflects that magpie’s reputation as a collector of expensive shiny objects like wedding rings.
  • Magpies are the subject of a nursery rhyme used to help children learn to count:

One for sorrow,
Two for joy,
Three for a girl,
Four for a boy,
Five for silver,
Six for gold,
Seven for a secret,
Never to be told.

The nursery rhyme was turned into a song performed by the Spencer Davis Group to accompany a British children’s television program call Magpie (1968 – 1980).

—Alison Graves, Contributor