Infinitely Polar Bear
Starring Mark Ruffalo, Zoe Saldana, Imogene Wolodarsky, Ashley Aufderheide
Marvel studio superhero’s Zoe Saldana (Guardians of the Galaxy) and Mark Ruffalo (The Avengers) take a break from their respective green faces to star in a unique film about stressful family circumstances. The family isn’t the only one stressed in this dynamic, first time director Maya Forbes really puts the audience inside the world of two young girls, coping with their manic/bi-polar father. Oscar nominee Ruffalo has built a career on well- crafted independent characters, and this is one of the most tricky. The film gets the unusual title from the daughter mispronouncing “bi-polar”. You might feel endless sympathy for the family that struggles through all the obstacles, but the tone is jarringly uneven as it too often makes light of the circumstance.
After Cameron (Ruffalo) lost his job and scared Maggie (Saldana) so bad she locked her and their daughters in a vehicle, she knew drastic measures had to be taken. Cameron sought treatment and got his own apartment while Maggie returned to school in hopes of providing her kids Amelia (Wolodarsky) and Faith (Aufderheide) with a better life. Following his treatment, Cameron keeps the girls in Boston while Maggie works on her MBA at Colombia. Living with their father is a daily struggle, as his eccentric behavior clutters the house, drives away neighbors but also provides excellent breakfast and moral support. Each weekend Maggie travels home, it’s a brand new challenge facing her struggling family.
The exploration of gender care-taking roles is one of the stories most interesting aspects.
The personality disorder Cameron faces is equally as disruptive as what John Nash faced in A Beautiful Mind. However Forbes script creates a scenario where the two girls and Cameron have the same maturity level, meaning the children influence the parent as much as he influences the girls. Furthermore, the exploration of gender care-taking roles is one of the stories most interesting aspects. Cameron complains to his wife that single mothers in the apartment building never invite him to do anything. The lack of discipline in the household makes for a really unique growing experience, but the writing doesn’t just create chaos for effect, often the lack of good behavior on both sides ends up teaching a valuable lesson.
Having the film set in the late 70’s early 80’s is vital to having this story framed the way it is, getting all the characters in such a desperate situation. Much like with Nash or more recently Julianne Moore’s character in Still Alice, the unpredictable behavior keeps the viewer on edge like a suspense genre, fearing what Cameron might do (or not do) next. If Infinitely Polar Bear has a downfall, it’s that is showcases the humorous or whimsical moments more often than the dramatic or emotional ones. The film is never stronger than when the daughters see both of their parents crying from a distance, the moments from the children’s point of view are the highlights. Forbes has created beautiful characters that really sustain the audience’s compassion and empathy if not always their attention.
A surprising and unique look at a family dealing with bi-polar disorder.