Review: Watts leads 'Penguin Bloom,' a sweet story about bouncing back

Netflix offering centers on a family that helps nurse a wounded magpie back to health

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

A wounded bird helps a family heal in "Penguin Bloom," a warm story of connection and rebuilding elevated by the tenderness and honesty of its performances.

Naomi Watts, as dependable an actress as we have today, stars as Sam Bloom, an extremely active wife and mother of three rambunctious boys who's wounded in a tragic accident while on vacation with her family in Thailand. She leans on a balcony railing that gives way and sends her falling onto the concrete below, breaking her back and putting her in a wheelchair for the rest of her days. 

Andrew Lincoln and Naomi Watts in "Penguin Bloom."

Sam openly wrestles with her transition from athlete (she's a surfer) to paraplegic, and Watts lets us see both her physical and psychological struggles. Meanwhile, Sam's husband Cameron (Andrew Lincoln) does his best to tend to her needs while also taking care of their three young boys, who are always running around the house and tumbling or loudly crashing into something.

Help comes along in the form of a wounded magpie, who the couple's son Noah (Griffin Murray-Johnston) comes across on the beach one day. He brings the bird home and they begin to nurse him back to health — he's black and white, so they name him Penguin — and in the process, the broken pieces of the family start getting put back together as well. 

Based on a true story, "Penguin Bloom" isn't any less predictable than you'd think it would be, but it's a tender, kind-hearted story that's handled with care by director Glendyn Ivin and screenwriter Harry Cripps, who adapted the book by Cameron Bloom. It's not where the story is headed that matters as much as the path it takes to get there, and "Penguin Bloom" largely avoids the overly sentimentalized traps into which stories like this tend to fall. Once it takes flight, it has earned its wings.


'Penguin Bloom'


Not rated: language, adult situations, partial nudity

Running time: 96 minutes

On Netflix