REVIEW: Infinitely Polar Bear

3 07 2015

Infinitely Polar BearMaya Forbes’ “Infinitely Polar Bear” is undoubtedly a drama, yet I was on the edge of my seat practically the entire movie.  That’s not because the movie also doubles as a thriller, though.  The film makes for a nerve-wracking experience because it follows manic depressive father, Mark Ruffalo’s Cameron, whose fragile stability of mind gets a real test when he has to assume sole parenting duties for his two daughters.

The decision is not one that he comes to lightly, but he takes on the responsibility to impress his estranged wife, Zoe Saldana’s Maggie, who impulsively married him in the ’60s when everyone was somewhat crazy.  But as the manic energy of that decade gave way to the headache of the late ’70s, Maggie discovers she needs an MBA to provide for her family.  She gets a generous scholarship from Columbia University, which is great … except that she cannot afford to relocate her two daughters from Boston to New York City.

Cameron appears to be on the mend, but nothing seems certain for him.  One of the first scenes in “Infinitely Polar Bear” shows him suffering a mental breakdown, a sight Forbes makes us desperately afraid of seeing again.  The stakes are high for Cameron as caretaker since another episode means more than self-destruction; it could directly harm two innocent young girls.

Ruffalo plays his character with a fierce commitment, never overzealously veering into exaggeration or stereotype.  Cameron really does mean well, and it proves extremely frustrating to watch him get in the way of his own good intentions.  He slowly learns how to parent Faith and Amelia, but thankfully, Forbes never tries to peddle the “love cures mental illness” message proffered by “Silver Linings Playbook.”  All progress here is hard-fought and earned.

“Infinitely Polar Bear” also looks beyond Cameron’s struggles and shines a light on those that Maggie must face.  As a mother and wife, she makes tough choices and tremendous sacrifices – only to have powerful men make sexist assumptions that she selfishly abdicated her duties.  Where pain abounds, love must rush in to soothe the hurt, and Forbes powerfully and movingly demonstrates the many different forms that love can assume.  B+ / 3stars