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film review

Naomi Watts is Sam Bloom in Penguin Bloom.Netflix

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  • Penguin Bloom
  • Directed by Glendyn Ivin
  • Written by Harry Cripps and Shaun Grant, based on the book by Cameron Bloom and Bradley Trevor Greive
  • Starring Naomi Watts, Andrew Lincoln and Rachel House
  • Classification N/A; 95 minutes

Don’t trust that cheesy smiling lady-and-her-trusty-bird poster that’s been circulating for Penguin Bloom, the new Netflix family drama that makes one woman’s journey to recovery seem like a fake movie starring 30 Rock’s Jenna Maroney.

While the movie does indeed feature a recently paralyzed mother overcoming obstacles thanks to her pet magpie chick nicknamed Peng – who is not, unfortunately, an actual penguin – this isn’t some cutsey, bordering-on-laughable inspiration porn. It is more patient, messy and dead-serious than its sight-gag of a poster might have you believe. This doesn’t mean it’s a great movie – just a passable one.

Based on the true story of Australia’s Bloom family – photographer dad Cameron (Andrew Lincoln), outdoorsy wife Sam (Naomi Watts) and their three young sons – director Glendyn Ivin’s film dutifully hits all the expected overcoming-obstacle beats. At the beginning, the Blooms are a happy and privileged brood, vacationing in Thailand without a care in the world. But then tragedy strikes, and Sam is left paralyzed from the waist down (between this and 2012′s The Impossible, Watts seems to have a real thing for the families-enduring-tragedy-in-Thailand subgenre).

Alongside Watts as Sam Bloom, Andrew Lincoln stars as Cameron Bloom, Griffin Murray-Johnston is Noah, Felix Cameron is Rueben and Abe Clifford-Barr is Oli in Penguin Bloom, available to stream on Netflix starting Jan 27.Netflix

Back home, which happens to be a spectacular beachfront estate, Sam is left feeling useless and depressed. Cameron is at loose ends coping with three rambunctious boys, including one who feels Sam’s accident is his fault. And Sam’s overbearing mother (Jacki Weaver, contractually obligated to play these roles in every Australian production) hovers around, questioning every move the family makes. Everything changes, though, when the clan welcomes in an injured magpie chick, and, well, you can guess the rest. Hope, togetherness, family, yadda yadda yadda.

While there is little new in the film in terms of character, plot or style, the performers at least make a good go of things. Watts especially, considering that she has to balance so many conflicting emotions while dealing with a co-star who got paid in worms. And Rachel House, the New Zealand actress/favourite of Taika Watiti (Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Thor: Ragnarok) brightens every scene she’s in as Sam’s surfing coach.

Given that The Globe has eliminated star ratings for movie reviews, I’m going to cheat and award this 2½ ca-caw’s out of four. Fly away, little movie. Fly away.

Penguin Bloom is available to stream on Netflix starting Jan. 27.

In the interest of consistency, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a critic’s choice designation across all coverage. (Television reviews, typically based on an incomplete season, are exempt.)