Naomi Watts with Sam Bloom.
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.”
Naomi Watts on set with Glendyn Ivin.
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.