FILM REVIEW: INFINITELY POLAR BEAR (2015) DIR. MAYA FORBES
Image Above: A Poster for Infinitely Polar Bear (Image from official site)
This film is most definitely a family affair on all levels. Based on writer/director Maya Forbes’ own life, it is produced by her husband (Wally Wolodarsky), stars her youngest daughter as her younger self, her eldest daughter in a small part and features her sister (China Forbes) singing an original song in the closing credits.
What is presented is a familiar formula of an appealingly quirky disfunctional family with a dark side - that being a severe case of bipolar disorder suffered by the father, Cam Stuart (Mark Ruffalo). He lives with his beautiful black wife, Maggie (Zoë Saldana) and their two pre- adolescent daughters, Amelia (Imogene Wolodarsky) and Faith (Ashley Aufderheide) in Cambridge, Mass. Although Cam is from a wealthy Boston background, he is only sporadically employed at low level jobs and his own family is living on limited means. So when Cam’s condition spirals out of control in a scene of such wild lunacy that he has to be taken to the bin we have the set up for the rest of the film.
The re-tooling of the family situation with Cam in rehab with an uncertain future and potentially never able to be a viable responsible adult or provider is the milieu where the film takes place. The situation looks unnecessarily bleak as Cam’s parents, who appear to be in a position to help, are emphatically not willing to step up to the plate claiming financial constraints. They are depicted as cold, uncaring and selfish. The unspoken possibility that they disapprove of their son’s interracial marriage is not addressed. This is, after all, the 1970’s. Maggie’s attempts to get a job are thwarted by what appear to be sexist bias even though she is highly educated and qualified.
INFINITELY POLAR BEAR – Mark Ruffalo, Zoë Saldana, Imogene Wolodarsky and Ashley Aufderheide (Image from official site)
With seemingly no options, Maggie hatches the plan for the family. They will relocate to a smaller apartment in a downscale neighborhood and Cam will take on the care of the girls while she goes to Columbia University in NYC for 18 months to get her MBA. This seems far-fetched to me. But if we are to believe it is true - the willing suspension of disbelief must be called upon. What they are living on is unclear. Why anyone would allow such a patently unstable person to be responsible for two young girls strains credulity.
INFINITELY POLAR BEAR – Mark Ruffalo, Imogene Wolodarsky and Ashley Aufderheide (Image from official site)
The spectacle of Cam’s extreme mood swings - behaving like a wacky creative childish genius who is beguiling until it becomes too much and then veering into a deep hole of irresponsible belligerence and angry drunken destructiveness is seen through Amelia’s eyes. We also experience the painfulness of the girls having to move from a good school in a nice neighborhood, leave their friends and endure the trauma of a new group of tough kids, a bad school, and a bonkers dad. What follows is all of the cutesy, antic, charming, heartbreaking, appalling behavior imaginable. It is a litany of all of the time-tested cliches designed to engage and manipulate the audience.
In spite of all of the obvious plots and ploys I found myself reluctantly becoming involved and feeling empathetic. What saves the film for me is the acting. Mark Ruffalo turns in an appealingly layered performance as well as a fair amount of scenery chewing. The two girls are fantastic and completely natural. Zoë Saldana has to play it straight and she is a delight to watch. The period details are well done. It succeeds as a charming lightweight entertainment about a serious issue.
By Belle McIntyre