Quite possibly the worst title for a movie lately, Infinitely Polar Bear is nonetheless a decent little flick. The unfortunate title comes from a child misnaming her father’s bi-polar disorder, the problem at the heart of this fractured family tale, which is based on the true story of writer/director Maya Forbes’s upbringing. Mark Ruffalo plays the father, Cameron, and his performance is the reason to see the film.
The story takes place in Boston in the late 70s, and Cameron begins the movie having a manic episode and being carted away to the asylum, leaving his wife Maggie (Zoe Saldana) and daughters Amelia (Imogene Wolodarsky) and Faith (Ashley Aufderheide) to fend for themselves in public housing. When he is sprung, he tries to keep it together and get back into his wife’s good graces, but she is more interested in providing for her kids and decides to go for an MBA in New York, suggesting that he take care of the girls, an extremely risky proposition, which he very reluctantly accepts. What follows is a series of incidents of a father messing up, but trying so hard and ultimately building a sweet though complicated relationship with his lovingly tolerant daughters. While you’re watching a lot of it, you fear that he is going to lose it at any second. You’re scared for the girls and for him. Mom comes home on weekends and though he tries to get back into her life, she’s probably given him too many chances to fall for him again.
This is definitely one of those true stories that you wonder how close to reality it really is. It is told through the eyes of a child and no doubt reflects the father she wants to remembers. (An interesting side note is that one of the daughters in the film – Imogene Wolodarsky – is the real-life daughter of the director playing her mother as a child.) The story is told with equal parts humor, tension, and drama, and though I think the script could have been stronger, it is a heartfelt telling of what was probably a very difficult period for this resilient family. Both of the daughters are really good actresses and the relationship that evolves with their crazy dad is very sweet. Ruffalo is really perfect as the dad, alternating between goofy and scary. And Saldana, though not given a big role, plays the mother who is sacrificing her time as mom for her kids’ well-being with an amazing amount of heart. It is a personal movie, small in scope, but worth seeing for the performances and its distinctive view of people living with mental illness and the effect that has on their families.