A family movie with a throwback feel, “Penguin Bloom” seemingly can’t make up its mind about who its actual protagonist is — the kid narrating what happened, his paralyzed mom dealt a cruel twist of fate, or the bird that helped the family weather it all.
The result is an uneven Netflix showcase for producer-star Naomi Watts, one that never entirely gets off the ground.
Samantha Bloom (played by Watts) suffered a terrible injury in 2013, when a railing gave way at a Thailand hotel, resulting in a fall that left her in a wheelchair.
A committed outdoorswoman, she’s struggling emotionally as well as physically, while her loving husband Cameron (“The Walking Dead’s” Andrew Lincoln) tries to find some way to snap her out of her depression while tending their three young kids.
One of those children, Noah (newcomer Griffin Murray-Johnston), is filled with sadness over his mom’s condition, while harboring guilt and remorse regarding those events. “It’s like mom was stolen from us,” he muses.
He’s also the one who rescues a baby bird, an injured magpie that he names Penguin. Sam is reluctant to get attached to their winged patient, but of course the avian co-star’s gradual recovery proves instrumental in helping the family mend, in a fashion that’s only slightly less manipulative than the old Disney nature movies.
Watts generates some touching moments, such as the look of anguish on her face when one of the boys gets sick and cries out for dad instead of her. “I can’t even be a mom,” she cries, articulating her feelings of helplessness, before finding an outlet — beyond the aforementioned magpie — that creates the means of rejuvenating her.
Adapted from a book co-written by Cameron Bloom, this Australian production has its heart in the right place. Yet the movie, directed by Glendyn Ivin, falls somewhere in the middle of a character-driven story about Samantha’s emotional arc, Noah’s coming-of-age tale and the magpie’s trip from unlikely pet to embracing its wild nature, like a feathered version of “Born Free.”
“Penguin Bloom” is harmless enough as family fare goes, which counts for something, with an inspirational message for these trying times.
The real drawback lies in how the story flits around in the telling and seems unable to choose a lane, leaving a movie that feels as if it’s neither fish nor fowl.