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Penguin Bloom

Penguin Bloom (Glendyn Ivin, 2020) wr. Cameron Bloom, book by Harry Cripps; Naomi Watts, Andrew Lincoln, Rachel House, Jacki Weaver, Gia Carides, Leeanna Walsman, Lisa Hensley; premiere at TIFF

Based on the best-selling book of the same name, the film tells the story of Sam Bloom (Academy Award® nominated Naomi Watts) a young mother whose world is turned upside down after a shocking, near-fatal accident leaves her paralyzed. Sam's husband, (Andrew Lincoln), her three young boys and her mother (Academy Award® nominated Jacki Weaver), are struggling to adjust to their new situation when an unlikely ally enters their world in the form of an injured baby magpie they name Penguin. The bird's arrival is a welcome distraction for the Bloom family, eventually making a profound difference on Sam's life, teaching her how to live again.

Don Groves, July 2020
Glendyn Ivin’s Penguin Bloom, the adaptation of Bradley Trevor Greive and Cameron Bloom’s novel starring Naomi Watts, The Walking Dead’s Andrew Lincoln and Jacki Weaver, will have its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.
The drama produced by Emma Cooper, Watts and Made Up Stories’ Bruna Papandrea, Jodi Matterson and Steve Hutensky is among 50 features in the line-up.
The festival’s 45th edition will run from September 10–19, a combination of physical, socially-distanced screenings, drive-ins, digital screenings, virtual red carpets, press conferences and industry talks.
Penguin Bloom’s selection is another welcome boost for Australian cinema after the news that Roderick MacKay’s The Furnace will have its world premiere in the Horizons section of the Venice International Film Festival.
Scripted by Shaun Grant and Harry Cripps, the film follows Watts as Sam Bloom, a young Sydney woman who broke her back after a railing snapped and fell head-first six metres onto a concrete floor while holidaying with her family in Thailand in 2013.
After being diagnosed as a paraplegic, she slipped into depression and hopelessness until her son Noah found a frail, injured magpie chick. By caring for the little bird, which the family named Penguin for her black and white plumage, she regained her strength and confidence.
Lincoln is Cameron Bloom, Sam’s husband and Weaver is her mother Jan. Newcomers Griffin Murray-Johnston, Felix Cameron and Abe Clifford-Barr, who were discovered in a nationwide search by casting directors Kirsty McGregor and Stevie Ray, play the Bloom’s children.
Rounding out the cast are Rachel House as Sam’s Kiwi kayak coach Gaye Hatfield, Leeanna Walsman as Sam’s sister Kylie and Lisa Hensley as her friend Bron.
“It’s a special story, a moving and hope-filled film,” says Ivin, whose Last Ride premiered in Toronto in 2009. “I was afraid Penguin Bloom would not get a major festival screening after so many were cancelled or postponed.
“I feel lucky that we’ve got a slot among 50 features, especially given how selective the organizers have been.”
Roadshow Films will launch the film on January 1. Endeavour Content is handling international sales. Screen Australia provided major production investment with support from Create NSW.
“The film is made for a broad audience,” Ivin adds. “It is not a family film but a film you can take the family to.”
Grant went to Toronto last year for the premiere of Justin Kurzel’s The True History of the Kelly Gang. “I would’ve loved to have attended again. But, as we know, 2020 is a year like no other, so I’ll be wishing the film well from the relative safety of my living room,” Shaun tells IF.
Cameron Bailey, TIFF’s artistic director and co-head, said: “The pandemic has hit TIFF hard, but we’ve responded by going back to our original inspiration — to bring the very best in film to the broadest possible audience.
“Our teams have had to rethink everything and open our minds to new ideas. We have listened to this year’s urgent calls for greater representation of under-represented voices. You’ll see that this year at the festival.”
This year TIFF is offering companies and individuals the opportunity to gift industry access to 250 under-represented emerging filmmakers from around the world.

Don Groves, September 2020:
Glendyn Ivin’s ‘Penguin Bloom’ wins plaudits after Toronto premiere
Glendyn Ivin’s true-life drama Penguin Bloom has been hailed as a feel-good crowd-pleaser infused with unexpected pathos after its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.
The critics praised Naomi Watts’ performance as Sam Bloom, a young Sydney woman who broke her back after a railing snapped and fell head-first six metres onto a concrete floor while holidaying with her family in Thailand in 2013.
After being diagnosed as a paraplegic, she slipped into depression and hopelessness until her son Noah found a frail, injured magpie chick. By caring for the little bird, which the family named Penguin for her black and white plumage, she regained her strength and confidence.
There were mixed reviews for Andrew Lincoln as Sam’s husband Cameron Bloom, but most enjoyed Jacki Weaver’s turn as her mother Jan.
The Guardian’s Benjamin Lee hailed the adaptation of Bradley Trevor Greive and Cameron Bloom’s novel by Shaun Grant and Harry Cripps as “a charming crowd-pleaser that at a normal at-capacity premiere would have led to hearty applause.”
Lee said: “It’s a handsomely made and sturdy little movie, mercifully devoid of cloying sentimentality, an old-fashioned throwback for families in search of something safe and superhero-free that might not sing quite as loud as it could have but flies just about high enough nonetheless.”
Collider.com’s Perri Nemiroff declared: “I welcome a heartening, feel-good movie based on an incredible true story any day, but it does feel like Penguin Bloom is making its way out into the world at an optimal time. If current events, personal struggles or anything of the sort has you down, not only will it encourage you to forge forward, but it’ll also inspire you to help others to do so, too.
“Release plans have yet to be announced, but should Penguin Bloom get a 2020 debut date – in theatres or streaming – I’d truly be shocked if it didn’t wind up being a favourite of the year.”
IndieWire’s Kate Erbland opined: “While the arrival of a weak baby bird who needs the kind of love only an ailing mother can provide seems, well, not very random in the movie world, Ivin mines its for unexpected pathos.
“As Sam starts to spread her own wings, the film also opens up, moving out of the cozy house and into a bright, gorgeous world that often feels quite scary, for both Sam and Penguin.
“It meanders a bit before coming in to land. The path there might be predictable, but there is still something beautiful when it really takes flight.”
On a rare sour note, Variety’s Tomris Laffly said the bird’s novel presence alleviates the film’s dullness only to a degree and the allegorical intentions of the story around the remedial power of love and family remain trivial at best.
Still, Laffly acknowledged that Watts “gives the material her all, plausibly portraying Sam’s reluctance to allow her loved ones … into her private suffering.”
Roadshow will launch the film produced by Emma Cooper, Watts and Made Up Stories’ Bruna Papandrea, Jodi Matterson and Steve Hutensky on January 1.
Endeavour Content is handling international sales. Screen Australia provided major production investment with support from Create NSW.
Meanwhile it was announced that Watts and director Phillip Noyce will team up for the thriller Lakewood, which starts shooting in Ontario on September 16 under strict COVID protocols.
In the film written by Chris Sparling (Buried, Greenland), Watts plays a mother who desperately races against time to save her child as authorities place her small town on lockdown.
Noyce’s thriller Above Suspicion, which stars Game of Thrones‘ Emilia Clarke, Jack Huston and Johnny Knoxville, was due for cinema release in the US in May via Roadside Attractions but has been delayed.

Brian Tallerico:
... Ivin doesn’t trust her [sic; he's male] audience enough, gliding across the surface of Bloom’s tragedy in a way that feels melodramatic and simplistic. Everything here feels manufactured to push emotional buttons instead of genuinely telling a true story. Ivin is lucky to have an actress as talented as Naomi Watts to anchor it, but even she can’t save it. ...
... Yes, Penguin Bloom is about a woman fighting through injury who befriends a bird doing the same. As unapologetically cheesy as that logline sounds, Watts does push through much of what Penguin Bloom could have been in that she doesn’t resort to histrionics to push emotional buttons. However, Ivin doesn’t really know what to do with Watts. So much of Penguin Bloom lacks the complexity of her performance with way too much dialogue about people saying what they feel and need in that moments [sic[. It treats a very emotional, layered situation with blunt, on-the-nose storytelling. (Roger Ebert)

References and Links

Groves, Don 2020a, 'Glendyn Ivin’s Penguin Bloom to premiere at TIFF', IF, July.

Groves, Don 2020b, 'Glendyn Ivin’s Penguin Bloom wins plaudits after Toronto premiere', IF, September.

Tallerico Brian, 2020, 'TIFF 2020: One Night in Miami, Penguin Bloom, Under the Open Sky', Brian Ebert.


Garry Gillard | New: 1 August, 2020 | Now: 15 September, 2020