RELEASE DATE: 26/03/2015
RUN TIME: 1HR 30MIN
Set in the 1970s, ‘Infinitely Polar Bear’ is told mostly from the point of view of Amelia (Imogene Wolodarsky, the director’s own daughter) as she tells the story of growing up with a bipolar parent. Cam (Mark Ruffalo, ‘Foxcatcher’) struggles with taking his medication, and after a bad manic episode, his wife Maggie (Zoe Saldana) takes their two daughters Amelia and Faith (Ashley Aufderheide) from their house in the country to a small apartment in the city. Cam recovers after a time in hospital, and when Maggie announces she wants to go to business school in New York and Cam to take care of the girls, Cam is at first terrified. Cam’s family is wealthy, but doesn’t believe in giving handouts. However, while Maggie believes Cam will cope, his parents don’t, with his father going so far as to say, “Even if you could, why would you want to?”; the inference being that childcare is women’s work. But Cam and Maggie do it anyway, and while Cam struggles, and his wilful daughters don’t make it easy for him, what follows is a heart-warming and heart-wrenching story of family.
Performances are excellent all round. Saldana and particularly Ruffalo (known these days more as the Hulk than his past romantic roles) shine. They each run the gauntlet of emotions without falling prey to dramatics. But it’s Ruffalo as the father struggling to keep himself level for his children who really deserves credit. He’s funny, frustrating and entirely believable, with an accurate and sensitive portrayal of mental illness. We don't feel sorry for him, but we certainly don’t hold it against him. I don’t think there’s another actor who could have done as good a job here.
Woloadarsky and Aufderheide are charming, honest, and trying; exactly as they should be. Embarrassed by their father, their home and their situation, but adoring of Cam nonetheless, their struggle too is palpable. If you’re paying attention, you’ll notice commentary on certain issues still relevant now, such as parenting and gender roles, feminism, discrimination, sexism, and the stigma surrounding mental health.
Mark Ruffalo is funny, frustrating and entirely believable, with an accurate and sensitive portrayal of mental illness.
The direction is for the most part very good. Scenes follow on well from each other, and the story moves along nicely. The only downside in that respect is that it drags a little in the middle. The opening and end are strong, but the film lacked the classic story-telling pattern of beginning-complication-climax. The complications lasted most of the story and there wasn’t a real climax, as such. However, this is a tale based on real life, and real life seldom follows literary guidelines. The overall quality of the film leaves no doubt as to why it was one of the standout films of the Sundance Film Festival in 2014.
The primary purpose of films is escapism, and unexpectedly, ‘Infinitely Polar Bear’ provides that, while also entertaining and informing on a sensitive and personal subject. It’s well worth your time.