|Review by Caitlyn Thompson|
Infinitely Polar Bear is an outstandingly difficult and touching story presented with humor and sharp poignancy by Maya Forbes. Her directorial debut is an autobiographical story of her experience as a young girl growing up with her sister under the care of their manic-depressive father. In the 1960’s when “everyone was having breakdowns” little was done to adequately treat the disorder thus leaving coping and maintenance up to the individuals.
Mark Ruffalo is Cameron Stuart, the bi-polar star of Infinitely Polar Bear. He’s exquisitely charming as well as heartbreakingly oppositional, and given the responsibility of raising his two daughters solo as his wife, Maggie (Zoe Saldana) completes her MBA in New York – the rest of the family lives in Boston.
Really though, the story illustrates how the girls raise their mentally ill father, rather than the reverse.
But truly, it’s a tandem effort of patience and understanding.
He delivers confusion, happiness, and anger with fluid perfection that I’ve never seen him do before. His performance is poignant, subtle, beautiful, and witty; the way he flicks his lighter open, speaks through the ever-burning cigarette resting on his lip, the inflected tones of excitement and childlike buoyancy, or the angry tone, all of which he expresses effortlessly with each changing moment. I think his performance was near flawless and while he delivers so many funny moments, the delivery doesn’t diminish the sadness each character feels.
Forbes creates a unique whimsical sorrow and it’s a wonderful to experience.
The chemistry between Ruffalo and his co-stars, namely the daughters, Amelia (Imogene Wolodarsky) and Faith (Ashley Aufderheide), is genuine and fun. The dynamic is both hilarious and sympathetic. Wolodarsky and Aufderheide are incredible as sad, ecstatic, or angrily potty-mouthed youngsters. Witty and independent – they must be to survive and take care of themselves as well as their unstable father.
The characters’ emotions tend to mirror Cameron’s with wide grins or glaring furrowed brows. Yet while their lives are consistently oscillating between productive and downright unhealthy, they express unconditional love through frustration and awe.
The young actresses are so mature and I give them the highest of praise for their authenticity in this film.
The film feels simultaneously boundless and cozy as the camerawork varies from extreme long shots moving whimsically through fields and woods in soft natural sunlight, or claustrophobic inside the family’s small, cluttered apartment lit with a few little lamps. The place is a disaster or pristinely neat. Forbes does an excellent job using the environment to reflect the ever-changing moods of the characters.
Infinitely Polar Bear is a back and forth story of upset and excitement; learning to cope with a (at the time) misunderstood disability that can’t be helped save for medication which can be all too paralyzing in some respects.
The film introduces controversy here about taking medication that essentially snuffs out what makes the manic so wonderful, yet allows the depression to become all the more intense. The movie is a presentation of balance, perseverance.
Kudos Maya Forbes. Bring us another.