Penguin Bloom (PG) - 95 minutes
A well-meaning, manipulative tear-jerker, Penguin Bloom is a story of family trauma based upon fact.
Sam (Naomi Watts) and Cameron Bloom (Andrew Lincoln) got together as teenagers and have been together ever since.
She is a nurse, he a photographer.
They both love the water and the beach, where they now share a house with their three boisterous young boys.
Life is peachy until they decide to take a holiday to Thailand (the boys wanted to go to Disneyland).
There Sam has a terrible and tragic accident, which puts her in a wheelchair for the rest of her life.
That happened a year ago and the story’s narrator is Sam’s eldest son, Noah (Griffin Murray-Johnston), by then aged 11, who blames himself.
Sam is now a shell of a person – forever in pain, angry and upset, seemingly with nothing to live for.
That is despite the best efforts of her husband Cameron, children – Noah, Reuben (Felix Cameron) and Oli (Abe Clifford-Barr) – mother Jan (Jacki Weaver), sister Kylie (Leeanna Walsman) and friends.
Sam shuts down.
One day, Noah rescues a magpie chick that fell from its nest and starts to hand rear it.
He names it Penguin because of its colouring.
Sam is frustrated by its constant chirping and wants to let the wild bird roam free, but one day when Noah asks her to look after the fledgling while he is at school the bond between her and Penguin grows.
Intent on getting some enjoyment back into Sam’s life, Cameron asks his wife to consider kayaking.
That doesn’t go down well at first, but Sam has a change of heart and that is where instructor Gaye Hatfield (Rachel House) comes to the fore.
Gradually, the family sets about rebuilding a new, life affirming normal.
While Penguin Bloom’s intent is clear, the transition from despair to joy was, in my opinion, too severe – lacking in subtlety.
Sure, it was a roller coaster ride, but I felt that I – as an audience member – was being played.
That is not to suggest that I didn’t become misty-eyed, rather I was conscious of the strings being pulled.
The best of breed films of this ilk don’t signal their punches like Penguin Bloom did.
This is from screenwriters Shaun Grant (Snowtown) and Harry Cripps (The Dry) and first-time feature film director Glendyn Ivin (best known for his television work).
It is based upon a book by Cameron Bloom and Bradley Trevor Greive.
Naomi Watts is the glue around whom the picture is bound and she works hard to craft the character of a woman whose life has been torn from her. She is most convincing.
There’s more predictability in the roles of those that surround her, sympathetic that they all are.
The scenery is spectacular. The rugged coastline has been beautifully captured by Sam Chiplin (Dirt Music).
In spite of my reservations, there will no doubt be many who will say this is an endearing movie of hope.
I wanted a more natural journey and more surprises.
Rated PG, Penguin Bloom scores a 6½ out of 10.