Penguin Bloom Parent Guide
Eschewing mawkish sentimentality, this film about adapting to disability offers powerful messages about change, resilience, and love.
Parent Movie Review
“Everything was pretty much perfect. And then last year happened…I hate last year.” So says young Noah Bloom (Griffin Murray-Johnston), reflecting on the end of his idyllic family life, shattered along with his mother’s spine in a freak accident. Paralyzed from her mid-back down, Sam Bloom (Naomi Watts) is mourning the end of the life she loved and struggling to mother from a wheelchair. Then her three boys bring home an orphaned baby magpie which they name Penguin. Despite Sam’s reluctance to have a noisy, needy pet, Penguin soon seizes space in her heart…and becomes a catalyst for change.
This plot synopsis could hint at a mawkish, trite film, which Penguin Bloom mercifully is not. The story doesn’t go step by step through a psychological checklist and it doesn’t wallow in treacly emotion. What it does is provide an unsparing look at adapting to unexpected disability; not just from Sam’s perspective but from her family members.
Being paralyzed has destroyed Sam’s sense of self, her identity as a playful mother, a nurse, and an accomplished surfer. As she struggles to relearn how to complete basic tasks from a wheelchair she agonizes over the things she can no longer do and laments, “What am I if I can’t even be a mum? I’m nothing.” For Sam, recovery means more than figuring out workarounds in an able-bodied world; it means redefining who she is and what her new life’s goals are going to be. To director Glendyn Ivin’s credit, this isn’t a tidy process but one that seesaws between despair, anger, determination, and hope. In other words, it looks like real life – which is appropriate since it’s based on a true story.
The tale of Sam and Penguin feels authentic on screen thanks to the skills of the cast and eight well-trained magpies. Naomi Watts is suitably expressive as Sam and Andrew Lincoln does a wonderful job as her husband Cameron. He’s loving, worried, helpful, and trying to figure out how to balance supporting Sam while fostering independence. The real star of the film, though, is Griffin Murray Johnston. His innocently accusing face is keenly sensitive to adult lies and evasions and clearly reflects his own grief and misplaced guilt.
With minor content issues – rare profanity, occasional social drinking, and disturbing flashbacks to Sam’s accident – Penguin Bloom allows viewers to focus on its remarkable story. Through Sam’s recovery, the movie emphasizes themes of courage, persistence, and resilience. And as her family navigates their new reality, they also learn lessons about forgiveness, communication, acceptance, and the welding and sustaining power of love.
As the Blooms wonder why Penguin is so slow at learning to fly, Noah speculates, “Baby birds dream of their mother’s song and that’s how they learn to sing. I wonder if they dream of their mothers teaching them to fly too?” As Sam’s sons watch her set down roots in her new life, she gives them – and audiences – a powerful lesson in accepting change, grounding ourselves, and ultimately, learning to fly again.Directed by Glendyn Ivin. Starring Rachel House, Naomi Watts, and Andrew Lincoln. Running time: 95 minutes. Theatrical release January 27, 2021. Updated October 2, 2021
Watch the trailer for Penguin Bloom
Rating & Content Info
Why is Penguin Bloom rated TV-14? Penguin Bloom is rated TV-14 by the MPAA for language
Violence: A woman falls over a railing; she is seen crumpled and unconscious 20 feet below. This scene recurs in flashbacks. A person deliberately knocks over a glass jar, shattering it. A dream sequence sees a woman in a wheelchair sinking under the water. An angry woman destroys picture frames by throwing rocks at them or flipping them off the wall. Birds viciously attack another bird; blood is visible.
Sexual Content: There is a brief view of little boy’s bare bottom. There is a brief view of a woman’s scarred and naked back and a very quick side view of her breast as she transfers into the shower. A married man and woman kiss on several occasions.
Profanity: There are approximately eight swear words in the movie – four scatological terms, two minor swear words, and two terms of deity. A character uses the word “spastic” to describe the disabled and is chastised for it.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Adults drink wine at a restaurant. Adults drink wine at a family dinner. Someone says another character is drunk.
Page last updated October 2, 2021
Penguin Bloom Parents' Guide
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History vs Hollywood: Penguin Bloom
Noah Bloom has said “In the beginning we thought we were rescuing Penguin. In a very real way, Penguin rescued us.” Have you ever helped anyone and discovered that the experience helped you?
Have you ever had to adjust to unexpected changes in your life? What helped you cope? How can you develop greater emotional resilience?
Loved this movie? Try these books…
This movie is based on a book – Penguin Bloom: The Odd Little Bird Who Saved a Family – by Cameron Bloom and Bradley Trevor Greive. Another book by Bradley Trevor Greive came out last year, entitled Sam Bloom: Heartache & Birdsong.
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A man struggles to adjust after he’s paralyzed in an accident. Things change when an ex-con becomes his personal care assistant in The Upside. Physically injured and psychologically wounded, a father struggles to parent his sons when he returns from Afghanistan in Father Soldier Son. When her husband is paralyzed after contracting polio, Diana Cavendish refuses to give up in Breathe.