Awards Analysis: Naomi Watts Strong in 'Penguin Bloom,' Wild Card Sales Title in Strange Year

Penguin Bloom
Hugh Stewart

Glendyn Ivin's Penguin Bloom, an acquisition title that stars Oscar nominee Naomi Watts, had its world premiere at the virtual Toronto International Film Festival on Saturday, apparently with aspirations of not only finding a distributor but also becoming a part of a most unusual awards season.

The film stars Watts as the Bloom family matriarch who is partially paralyzed in a freak accident, and subsequently bonds with a wounded magpie that one of her young sons (Griffin Murray-Johnson) brings home and nicknames 'Penguin.'

Suffice it to say the low-budget Australian indie will be lucky to succeed at just the former, not because it isn't perfectly sweet and well-acted — as The Hollywood Reporter's critic John DeFore notes in his review, Watts makes the most of her assignment, as always, and is supported here by The Walking Dead's Andrew Lincoln and Oscar nominee Jacki Weaver, among other talented performers — but because it is unclear who the audience would be for a movie that might have been pitched as Fly Away Home meets The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

To be sure, plenty of talented performers have been Oscar-nominated, and not infrequently won, for playing characters who are immobilized to one degree or another by injury or illness — from Daniel Day-Lewis for My Left Foot to Eddie Redmayne for The Theory of Everything. And indeed it is the case that Watts herself was previously nominated for playing a woman who was seriously injured while on a vacation with her young family, eight years ago for The Impossible.

But those films were obviously aimed at adults and also were less clunky than this one, which, though based on a true story, hammers a bit too hard the idea that the matriarch and the bird are in the same boat — with dialogue like "She doesn't want to be stuck inside, does she?" and "It must be weird to have wings, but not be able to fly," along with multiple shatterings of glass.

Penguin Bloom, which was written by Shaun Grant and Harry Cripps and counts Watts and Emmy winner Bruna Papandrea (Big Little Lies) among its producers, is an example of a perfectly fine and well-meaning film that may nevertheless struggle to, well, take flight, in awards season or otherwise.