Infinitely Polar Bear (2014)

infinitelypolarbear_2014_poster
Infinitely Polar Bear (2014)
  • Time: 88 min
  • Genre: Comedy | Drama
  • Director: Maya Forbes
  • Cast: Zoe Saldana, Mark Ruffalo, Keir Dullea, Imogene Wolodarsky

Storyline:

A manic-depressive mess of a father tries to win back his wife by attempting to take full responsibility of their two young, spirited daughters, who don’t make the overwhelming task any easier.

3 reviews

  • There are various degrees of bipolar disorder but when it results in a breakdown it’s serious. They don’t really show this degree in Infinitely Polar Bear but it’s there, lurking. We see the manic periods but very little of the depression that follows. Take that into consideration but, remember, it’s a movie and it tells a story. It doesn’t have to show us every little detail. It needs to present characters we want to follow and situations we want to see resolved. This film does that.
    Writer/director Maya Forbes balances the content well. Yes, at the beginning we see the lead male character, Cameron, during a breakdown and recovery and, as he moves back in with his two daughters and his wife, we see the difficulty he has with other people’s needs. There is much that is funny without making fun but the most important relationships, Cameron with his two daughters, are played straight and if some of it gets a laugh it’s because, one way or the other, we’ve been there. The movie is paced well and it is not preachy or mocking in any way.
    Mark Ruffalo plays Cameron and handles it extremely well. He is as believable as a serious, hospitalized depressive as he is believable as a loving father. Ruffalo plays small triumphs as major accomplishments and you can’t help but like Cameron for it. This is the kind of low key but well played performance that should be nominated for awards but because it looks so easy it won’t be.
    Zoe Saldana plays Maggie, Cameron’s wife and mother of his two girls. Saldana plays Maggie as a woman torn between the immediate and the future and Maggie never does know which is the best path to follow. I have a problem with the final choices the character makes but they are based on logical thinking.
    The daughters are played by Ashley Aufderheide and, it is to be assume, the director’s daughter, Imogene Wolodarsky. These two are great. They don’t come off as the typical smarter than the adults movie character kids. They both are disappointed and, for their own reasons, wish things were back the way they were. Through their performances and good direction you can see them gradually reverse their thinking without any artificiality of character or acting.
    In supporting roles there are three people who need to be mentioned. Beth Dixon plays Cameron’s mother, Pauline, a woman of privilege who knows it and plays it to the hilt without being dishonest. This resulted in some great lines topped only by her excellent delivery. Playing her husband, Cameron’s father, Murray, is Keir Dullea. Murray has spent so much of his life following someone else’s demands that personal choice isn’t necessarily the bed rock of his existence. When reminded of that, light briefly shines in the shadows. Finally, there’s Cameron’s paternal grandmother, Gaga, played with charm and firmness by Muriel Gould. Gaga is the only one with any sense in the family even if no one agrees with her and, since she also holds the purse strings, doesn’t care if they agree or not. These three performances are little gems of comedy that should be enjoyed.
    I give this movie 4 projects out of 4. It isn’t real life, it’s a movie, and as a movie it does everything right.

  • Infinitely Polar Bear, writer-director Maya Forbes’ feature debut, draws on her childhood experience of living with her bipolar father while her mother worked on her graduate degree. As with its title, a child’s cutesy riff on bipolarity, the film quirks up the darker aspects of mental illness which, when coupled with the episodic narrative, results in a mildly affecting film.

    Forbes begins the tale with Super 8 home movie footage of Cam Stuart (Mark Ruffalo) as his oldest daughter Amelia (Imogen Wolarsky, Forbes’ real-life daughter) reveals via voiceover that her father had already been diagnosed as a manic-depressive in 1967, a fact he freely shares with future wife Maggie (Zoe Saldana) on their first date. She’s unperturbed by the reveal – it’s the Sixties, who wasn’t having a nervous breakdown? Ten years later, they’re married with two children, Amelia and Faith (Ashley Aufderheide), but neither marriage nor fatherhood have stabilised Cam’s condition.

    Losing his job triggers an episode as, instead of taking the girls to school, he rallies them to walk through the woods near their Cambridge, Massachusetts country home. An exasperated Maggie – who knows how many such episodes she has had to endure over the years – packs up the kids. They’re prevented from leaving, however, by a Speedo-clad Cam, who launches into a fit as Maggie and the girls cower in the locked car. Some time passes and Maggie and the girls remain inside the car as they gaze out at Cam, who is silent and sitting in the cold. Next time we see Cam, it is at the end of a stint in the institution. Heavily sedated, he can manage no more than shuffled steps and slurred speech but he’s determined to become a functional human being again.

    Maggie, in the meantime, is resolved to get the best education possible for her daughters, who are currently being unchallenged in their public school. She is confident she can earn a degree in 18 months and use that degree to secure a job that will pay enough for her to send Amelia and Faith to the best private school in the district. The only catch is she needs Cam to take care of the girls while she’s away in New York. He can move into her home and she’ll come back to Cambridge on the weekends. “Is this something to do with feminism?” Cam’s blue-blooded father (Keir Dullea) asks when he hears the plan. No, his African-American daughter-in-law replies, it has to do with desperation and being on the poverty line.

    Predictably, Cam is not exactly up to the task. He thinks nothing of leaving the girls home alone at night while he goes to the bars or letting the dishes go unwashed or littering the apartment with his half-finished projects. It’s never in doubt that Cam loves the girls, but exactly how long can he handle this responsibility without suffering another breakdown or endangering the girls?

    Truth is often stranger than fiction but there is a reason that dramatic license exists when translating real-life events onto the screen. Plausibility issues aside, there is something about Infinitely Polar Bear that refuses to come to life despite the strong performances of Ruffalo and Saldana. It may be that it adheres too much to the relatively uncomplicated perspective of a child when the more adult complexities – Cam and Maggie’s heart-to-hearts about their situation as well as the racist, feminist and economic bias Maggie faces – are a far more intriguing watch.

    The romantic interludes between Cam and Maggie also remind viewers what a deeply sexy man Ruffalo is. Ruffalo resembles a teddy bear – he is designed to be hugged – but he often exudes a dangerous physicality when romantically inclined (see In the Cut, Thanks for Sharing, even the sweet-natured 13 Going on 30) and it’s a trait that should be showcased more often.

    Unfortunately, Ruffalo’s heartfelt portrayal and Saldana’s skillful mix of personal grit, maternal selflessness, and bittersweet love are lost amidst the insubstantial series of seriocomic vignettes that comprise the film.

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  • Mark Ruffalo knows a thing or two about mixed feelings since he took on the role of The Hulk in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Mark Ruffalo might be the biggest and greenest Avenger of the group but he does not get the most screen time out of the bunch. Infinitely Polar Bear gives Ruffalo the opportunity to show off his manic episodes but he is not turning into The Hulk this time but an individual who happens to be bipolar.

    While most fathers spend their days at work, CAM STUART (Mark Ruffalo) is more likely to be found mushroom-hunting, cooking elaborate meals, or working on one of his many half- completed projects. His family’s wealth keeps his family just barely afloat, while Cam struggles to live with manic depression. When Cam has a manic breakdown that lands him in a mental hospital, his wife MAGGIE (Zoe Saldana) and their two young daughters, AMELIA and FAITH, are forced to leave their house in the country and move into a cramped apartment in Cambridge, where Maggie tries to find a decent job, with no luck. Broke, stressed, and overwhelmed, Maggie applies to business school and is accepted to Columbia University’s MBA program. Seeing this as her chance to build a better life for their daughters, Maggie asks Cam to become the primary caregiver for the girls while she completes her degree in New York. After all, routine is what the doctor ordered and the girls miss their dad. Cam agrees, hoping to rebuild his family. But the two spirited girls are not interested in making things easy for him. With Maggie away in New York, Cam quickly realizes that he’s in over his head. Over the course of the next 18 months, as Maggie rushes to complete her degree, he learns, through trial and a lot of error, how to take care of his precocious daughters as well as himself. After years of struggling to find his place in the world, Cam may finally have found where he fits in.

    Usually when a film focuses on individuals with bipolar disorder and its effects on marriage and families, the film is told from a female’s perspective. This was seen in last year’s Still Alice alone but Infinitely Polar Bear offers a nuance take on this disorder.

    Led by Mark Ruffalo, Infinitely Polar Bear is filled with wit but it is sensitive to the subject matter. Director Maya Forbes makes her feature-film debut and draws inspiration from her own autobiographic memories. She dresses Ruffalo as her own father and even casts her daughter to play a younger version of herself.

    The result is much different than other films and that is mostly because the film is missing a plot. Usually, majority of the times, this is a problem but that is not the case for this film. Forbes entertains and educates us and Ruffalo is at his ultimate best. Ruffalo has been one of the most underrated actors since The Normal Heart and that is even the case when it comes to his role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. You are automatically drawn to Ruffalo’s Cam and his big heart. He is misguided and being diagnosed with bipolar does not make things easier for him and you are emotionally attached as he goes on this journey of raising two daughters on his own while at the poverty level.

    If you are one of those who are wondering why Mark Ruffalo was nominated for Best Actor at the Golden Globes instead for his performance in Spotlight then just watch this film. Ruffalo is at his best and is as three-dimensional as it gets.

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