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Infinitely Polar Bear Movie Review

Infinitely Polar Bear (2015) movie poster Infinitely Polar Bear

Theatrical Release: June 19, 2015 / Running Time: 90 Minutes / Rating: R

Writer/Director: Maya Forbes

Cast: Mark Ruffalo (Cameron "Cam" Stuart), Zoe Saldana (Maggie Stuart), Imogene Wolodarsky (Amelia Stuart), Ashley Aufderheide (Faith Stuart), Beth Dixon (Pauline Stuart), Keir Dullea (Murray Stuart), Muriel Gould (Gaga), Georgia Lyman (Becca)

 

Mark Ruffalo and Zoe Saldana took a break from their respective multi-film, multi-year deals with Marvel Studios to make Infinitely Polar Bear, a film for the arthouse crowd with a title you could mistake for a nature documentary.

Ruffalo and Saldana play Cameron and Maggie Stuart, an interracial couple living in Boston in 1978. Cameron has been diagnosed manic depressive, which explains his mood swings,
instability, and general unreliability. Eleven years into their marriage, the couple and their two daughters have been struggling to make it as a family. We see why in an early scene when Cam bikes towards the family station wagon in a snug bathing suit, eventually pulling out a piece of the car's machinery to prevent a getaway.

A stint in rehabilitation and a treatment of lithium pills makes Cam a little more dependable, as he moves into a halfway house and tries to get better. Still, when Maggie gets a scholarship to attend Columbia University's business school, she is skeptical that Cam can move into her apartment and take care of their elementary school-aged girls, Amelia (Imogene Wolodarsky) and Faith (Ashley Aufderheide), who are frequently and vocally embarrassed by their father's unaware overstepping.

"Infinitely Polar Bear" stars Mark Ruffalo as a bipolar father single-handedly raising two daughters (Imogene Wolodarsky and Ashley Aufderheide) in Boston while their mother attends business school in New York.

With Maggie taking a bus back to Boston every weekend, Cam tries to keep the impoverished family afloat, having his hands full with cooking, cleaning, laundry, and single parenting.

Infinitely Polar Bear perhaps will strike some as Mr. Mom for a 2015 arthouse crowd. The girls are cute and childish. Their father is a chain-smoking mess, more likely to throw a tantrum than the girls, even over being left out when they gather with their young neighbors from the building.

Bipolar isn't an easy condition to portray, especially in a movie that aims to make you laugh rather than cry. But Ruffalo is an old pro whose dramatic and comedic gifts go well beyond what he's shown playing Dr. Bruce Banner and, to a lesser degree, the Hulk in the Avengers movies (a role there are faint echoes of here). Frequently cast as the invaluable second fiddle who is nonetheless easy to take for granted, Ruffalo shines in this demanding lead role. Even playing off inexperienced, not entirely at ease child actors, Ruffalo gives Cam realism, depth, and personality. He creates a character you'd like to find happiness, but at the same time someone you could understand not wanting to trust with kids or spend your life with.

Cam (Mark Ruffalo) and Maggie Stuart (Zoe Saldana) wrestle with poverty, underemployment, distance, and mental illness in "Infinitely Polar Bear."

Infinitely makes for a fine directing debut for Maya Forbes, a longtime writer of television ("The Larry Sanders Show") and unspectacular mainstream films (Monsters vs. Aliens, The Rocker, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days).
The autobiographical nature of the storytelling is easy to appreciate and impossible to miss. Forbes is clearly the older daughter, the one whose perspective the film is loosely filtered through and who is played by her actual daughter with husband, frequent co-writer, early "Simpsons" scribe, and Wes Anderson friend Wallace Wolodarsky, who produces and briefly appears here.

As its title suggests, the movie runs the risk of trivializing mental illness with cutesy depictions of the financially insecure, untraditional family. Gladly, it doesn't succumb to those temptations, maintaining tact along with its sense of humor. A lesser actor than Ruffalo might not have left you with the good feeling the movie wants you to have. But it achieves its goals, taking you back to a time and place with much more concern for characters and intimacy than for accurate period fashions and vernacular.

Related Reviews:
Mark Ruffalo: Begin Again Foxcatcher The Kids Are All Right On the 2nd Day of Christmas Zodiac
Zoe Saldana: Guardians of the Galaxy The Words Death at a Funeral
Now in Theaters: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl Avengers: Age of Ultron Inside Out
Written by Maya Forbes: Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days
St. Vincent Silver Linings Playbook Father Hood & Life with Mikey August: Osage County

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Reviewed July 1, 2015.



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