[This review was originally published during our Sundance 2014 coverage. It’s being re-posted to coincide with the film’s limited theatrical release.]
Infinitely Polar Bear
Director: Maya Forbes
Release Date: January 18, 2014 (Sundance), June 19, 2015 (limited)
Infinitely Polar Bear is based on writer/director Maya Forbes’ childhood, so it’s hard to say what I have to say about the film without an internal pang of guilt surrounded my honesty. To be critical of a film is hard when the film is a representation of a person’s real life, and while I’ve been able to deal with the separation more often than not in the past, I find myself torn as I write this. Consider this paragraph my cold opening for a film that, despite its every attempt to warm my heart, left me feeling chilly.
Cam Stuart (Mark Ruffalo) is a manic depressive father of two who’s estranged from his wife, Maggie (Zoe Saldana). After a severe breakdown hospitalizes Cam, Maggie and their daughters Amelia (Imogene Wolodarsky) and Faith (Ashley Aufderheide) are forced to move from their idyllic country home to the city due to Cam’s bills. As his health gradually recovers, Maggie finds herself in a growing financial rut. Her best bet is to leave Boston to attain her Master’s Degree in New York, entrusting the care of the girls to Cam. What transpires is a test of emotional and psychological strength as Cam and the girls attempt to build and maintain a healthy family dynamic.
Infinitely Polar Bear is a feel-good film, but is sometimes too much at times. Cam’s manic depression is treated more as weird tics and character quirks than a real affliction. Is this due to artistic license? Perhaps this is how Forbes saw her own father? We all cope and deal with problems differently, and this could simply be a case of that, but the film downplays Cam’s affliction as a cute eccentricity.
Despite that, Ruffalo’s performance in Infinitely Polar Bear is probably my favorite of his in recent years. He plays Cam loose, and it fits into the context of the film. Other reviews I’ve seen elsewhere have characterized his Cam as a manic pixie guy (alluding to the “manic pixie girl” archetype that has arisen in films over the past decade), and I can’t argue that. Again, it fits into the film well, but when the crux of the film involves this man’s manic depression and how it affects the relationships he has with his family, you’d expect more depth and emotional toil than what’s depicted.