There are moments in Penguin Bloom where you feel time is standing still or moving especially slowly. It's used as an intentional effect, like when Sam drops into the sea in slow motion or seems to step outside her own body to remember her debilitating fall.
But that stillness also comes across in scenes where we watch from Sam's perspective as regular life happens all around her, as if nothing had changed. The sun continues to rise and fall while she sits still. For her, everything has changed; she's stuck, and the visual imagery of the film communicates that, including in the symbolism of the jars of honey the family produces.
The cinematography is quite beautiful and used as a powerful tool in conveying the Blooms' story, but so is Watts' quiet and determined performance as Sam.
The parallels between Sam's journey towards recovery and the abandoned magpie's can feel a little heavy-handed at times, if not predictable. "She doesn't want to be stuck inside, does she?" they ask.
But the connection is also sweet: When Sam cares for Penguin, she smiles for the first time. Among all the things she feels she's lost, mothering may be the hardest. The film is narrated by the oldest of her three boys, Noah, tenderly portrayed by Griffin Murray-Johnston. He blames himself for the fall, and we also see the accident, the trauma, and the recovery from his perspective.
When he and his brothers skateboard on the roof of their house or jump off the roof onto the trampoline below, they're free and nimble and young, but you can't help but sense the tension of another potential accident waiting to happen. The fact that it doesn't feels doubly liberating.
Read the full review at Common Sense Media.