starring Naomi Watts, Andrew Lincoln, Rachel House, Jacki Weaver
screenplay by Harry Cripps & Shaun Grant, based on the book by Cameron Bloom & Bradley Trevor Greive
directed by Glendyn Ivin
by Angelo Muredda Naomi Watts should stop vacationing in Thailand. That's just about the only lesson worth heeding in the faux-inspirational, would-be edifying Penguin Bloom, which plays out like an unofficial remake of J.A. Bayona's otherwise forgettable The Impossible, the last time Watts played a wealthy Westerner with a pack of sandy-haired boys getting gored on holiday in Southeast Asia. Glendyn Ivin's anonymously directed and bone-tired disability melodrama stars Watts (also a producer) as real-life well-to-do Australian mom turned ParaCanoe athlete Sam Bloom, who experiences a life-changing spinal-cord injury after a rooftop railing gives way under her. (As in The Impossible, we see the traumatic injury several times, including in uncanny nightmare sequences that mark the only time either film could be called stylish.) Newly disabled and deflated as she wheels around her spacious home, Sam finds her way back to life--which in Ivin's limited imagination appears to consist of being a good mom even though she might not be able to reach over and put bandaids on her kids' scraped knees like before--by nursing an injured magpie the family dubs Penguin. Meanwhile, Sam's eldest son, Noah (Griffin Murray-Johnston), makes a video essay celebrating his mother's resilience and mourning for the charmed life the family has lost, which conveniently doubles as a thematic narration track, in case any of the messages (presumably ported wholesale from the Cameron Bloom/Bradley Trevor Greive book on which the film is based) pass us by.
That's about all there is to Penguin Bloom, which amounts to little more than yet another cursed opportunity for a filmmaker to de-glam Watts--to what end and for what awards-season run, who knows. An interesting actress capable of an impressive range of discordant notes when challenged, Watts is relegated to singing from the depressive disabled person's songbook here. Her future in competitive kayaking comically relegated to a brief note in the end credits, Sam journeys from dire speeches about wanting to die because being disabled is the same as being nothing to sagely nodding to her husband (Andrew Lincoln), after the bird has reawakened her spirit, that at last, she feels "better." A clumsy and profoundly unfunny scene where her overprotective, fussy mother (Jacki Weaver, reprising her energy from Silver Linings Playbook (why bother developing a new character for a project this dire?)), quips to her daughter that nobody will think she's "spastic" for using a handicap parking sticker reveals all any prospective disabled viewers need to know about what this movie thinks of them and who its inspiration porn is designed for. Programme: Special Presentations