Penguin Bloom Review: Birds Are Better Than People
It’s okay to cry.
Penguin Bloom is a flick that anybody with an animal family member can relate to. Without having to speak a word of English, these lovable creatures come into our lives and completely change them for the better. I’m not immune from this, I made my rabbit the logo of this very website, along with a fundamental aspect of my character. I’m a better man because he is in my life.
Naomi Watts–who is one of my favourite actresses–stars as Sam Bloom, a woman who has an unfortunate accident while vacationing with her family. This left her crippled and unable to stand. Understandably, this caused a strain for her and her family members. That’s when the titular Penguin comes into the picture; a magpie who herself is in need of help.
You can probably see where this is going. Truth be told, it’s a familiar story and the metaphors are obvious. The bird represents the human, and they need each other. But you know what? I don’t care. Not in the sense that I didn’t care about the events on-screen because that’s not true–I cared too much. It doesn’t take much to build a relationship between an animal and a human, which can sometimes make films that exploit that seem lazy.
Penguin Bloom was never lazy. It took the time to build the family, build the torment and build the bonding between Penguin and the family. Even in the silliest moments it didn’t matter because it did the leg work. And even though it’s predictable, it’s one of those movies where I wanted the ending that I knew I would get. Sometimes the most conventional path is the best, so long as it’s earned. I would say it’s earned but there were a few hiccups along the way.
Notably, Andrew Lincoln. He tries and is given decent material to work with, but I never thought that he was a) the best actor for the situation or b) able to carry the heavy lifting that was required. He was okay, but some of his more emotional work felt forced, and he cut it a bit short, unable to reach the crescendo that he needed to at most moments where it was designed to reached.
That’s a problem when you have a powerhouse right beside you putting in one of the better performances of the year, even if it’s the type of performance that typically makes people consider it one of the better performances of the year. Not enough can be said about Watts, who never overplays anything and always hits the exact perfect note for any scene that she’s in. Occasionally the dialogue that she has to say is a little ham-fisted or even repetitive, but any moment where I was let down wasn’t because of her.
Along with her were the kids, who did a decent job themselves but rarely do you expect young actors to pull the weight. I don’t think any of them would be able to, but luckily enough was understood that they didn’t make them.
Glendyn Ivin, who has worked mostly in television as far as I know, brought a little bit of that to the table. It’s a bit of an uneven directorial effort, but never poor. There was an early part on the beach where he flirted with something much more substantial, expertly using a wide-angle shot to create mental distance, Little flourishes pop up here and there, moments of dreamy surrealism occasionally flash on the screen, but for the most part it was a pretty subdued take on the material.
To its detriment, that same restraint will leave the action on screen feeling a little bit dull. But like the flourishes that occasionally appear, this is also an infrequent occurrence. It’s a blemish on an emotionally affecting film.
That’s what it comes down to for me. It can’t be called great because there’s just enough piling up against it to prevent it from occupying that territory. But it still manages to be on the upper end of good, often very good. If you could judge a movie strictly on its lead performance it would be one of the better movies of the year, but you can’t.
And if I could judge the movie based on how much I project my own life with my rabbit onto this movie, and how deeply impacted I was by the events that took place in part because of that, it would also be the movie of the year. But I have to remain somewhat objective and know that while it is undeniably powerful, an unquantifiable amount of that strength was erected based on my own personality… not on the writing of the flick itself. That’s not without merit, but those with a dissimilar experience from my own are unlikely to feel the same way about Penguin Bloom.
Penguin Bloom 2: Flying High is in the works now. Check out the first screenshot here.
THAT'S ENOUGH, GET TO THE SCORE
THE MAGPIE IS CUUUUUTE
If you want to cry this is for you. Being based on a true story helps, and the credits really hammer that point home. It’s a little flawed in the way it tells its story, even if ultimately I felt that the emotional impact was earned. Naomi Watts is golden here, however.