A lot or a little?
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Penguin Bloom is an emotional drama based on the true story of Sam Bloom (Naomi Watts) and her family's journey toward healing after she has a debilitating accident. Helping them in the process is an abandoned magpie they adopt and care for. The accident is shown through a series of flashbacks and involves Sam falling off a balcony, screaming, and landing on a concrete patio below, where a pool of blood forms around her head. She's rushed away in an ambulance, and viewers hear her groaning. She's later confined to a wheelchair, depressed; she occasionally acts out, breaking things in the house and reacting angrily to friends and family. The drama, and the effect it has on her husband and three young boys, is emotionally taxing, but characters also demonstrate courage and compassion. Language includes "s--t," "poo," "farts," "spew," "spastic," and "jeez." As Sam's husband helps her bathe and dress, she's shown in her underwear and naked from the waist up from behind. Characters drink wine and talk about giving up drinking temporarily. Sam accuses her mom of being "drunk and emotional" at a lunch.
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What's the story?
Sam Bloom (Naomi Watts) and her husband (Andrew Lincoln) and three young sons are on vacation in Thailand when she falls off a roof and breaks her back in PENGUIN BLOOM. Upon return home in Australia, Sam struggles to come to terms with her new wheelchair-bound existence. A former surfer and natural athlete, she's drowning in grief, pain, and anger. She struggles to participate in family life or face old friends. Then one day her son brings home an abandoned magpie, which he names "Penguin" for its white and black feathers. The magpie slowly draws Sam out as the two bond. As Penguin grows and learns to fly, Sam too starts learning new activities like kayaking and joining the world of the living again.
Is it any good?
This true story can be intense at times, but it has a lot of heart. There are moments in Penguin Bloom where you feel time is standing still or moving especially slowly. It's used as an intentional effect, like when Sam drops into the sea in slow motion or seems to step outside her own body to remember her debilitating fall. But that stillness also comes across in scenes where we watch from Sam's perspective as regular life happens all around her, as if nothing had changed. The sun continues to rise and fall while she sits still. For her, everything has changed; she's stuck, and the visual imagery of the film communicates that, including in the symbolism of the jars of honey the family produces. The cinematography is quite beautiful and used as a powerful tool in conveying the Blooms' story, but so is Watts' quiet and determined performance as Sam.
The parallels between Sam's journey towards recovery and the abandoned magpie's can feel a little heavy-handed at times, if not predictable. "She doesn't want to be stuck inside, does she?" they ask. But the connection is also sweet: When Sam cares for Penguin, she smiles for the first time. Among all the things she feels she's lost, mothering may be the hardest. The film is narrated by the oldest of her three boys, Noah, tenderly portrayed by Griffin Murray-Johnston. He blames himself for the fall, and we also see the accident, the trauma, and the recovery from his perspective. When he and his brothers skateboard on the roof of their house or jump off the roof onto the trampoline below, they're free and nimble and young, but you can't help but sense the tension of another potential accident waiting to happen. The fact that it doesn't feels doubly liberating.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the parallels between the magpie's growth and healing, and Sam's, in Penguin Bloom. Have you ever had such a close connection with a pet or other animal?
Noah blames himself for his mother's fall. Why? Do you understand why he feels this way?
Sam discovers and excels at kayaking. How does this sport help her overcome her grief, anger, and fear?
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