Review: Infinitely Polar Bear
PLOT: Cam (Mark Ruffalo) would be the perfect father and husband to his picture-perfect family if it wasn't for one thing. Cam suffers from manic depression- exacerbated by his drinking- and refuses to take medication. When his wife (Zoe Saldana) is forced to leave the family for an extended period of time, Cam finds himself a single dad, and struggles to show his daughters and wife that he can be the man they need him to be.
REVIEW: INFINITELY POLAR BEAR turns a very unlikely subject into feel-good family entertainment. One could subtitle this "the lighter side of manic depression" doing for the illness what JUNO did for teen pregnancy and what another Sundance entry- THE OBVIOUS CHILD- does for abortion.
To some, that description may be more than enough for them to write the film off unseen. The only way to watch this is to go in tongue firmly planted in cheek. Judging by the standing ovation at the premiere (the only one I saw outside of BOYHOOD and THE RAID 2) INFINITELY POLAR BEAR might be a future breakout hit in the mold of other sleepers to emerge from the festival such as LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE and THE WAY WAY BACK.
Mark Ruffalo plays our stricken hero, Cam. The layabout scion of a Boston blue-blood family, he's unable to hold a job and frequently frustrates him family to the extent that he's only got a meagre trust-fund allowance to support his family. His wife, played by Zoë Saldana, has had enough and decides that the only way she can provide for her daughters (Imogene Wolodarsky & Ashley Aufderheide) is to accept a scholarship to do her MBA in another city. As such, she's forced to give Cam another shot.
Be aware, the manic depression we see here is distinctly a mainstream version. Cam seems to mostly be manic, and it's rare that we ever see him in a depressive state. The only effect his illness seems to have is that it makes him ultra-charismatic and friendly, and prone to start little projects he doesn't finish. Cam's never a danger to anyone, including himself. The only downside presented here is that he can't hold a job, and occasionally embarrasses his daughters with his enthusiasm.
But, while this is far from PROZAC NATION, it can't be denied INFINITELY POLAR BEAR works as top-notch family entertainment. Ruffalo is charming as always, and he sinks his teeth into a part that will likely boost his box-office appeal in a big way once it's acquired. Interestingly, the film is produced by J. J Abrams' Bad Robot, and it seems to have had a pretty healthy budget, as you'd be hard-pressed to tell this wasn't studio produced.
Zoë Saldana, who's often wasted as window dressing, has terrific chemistry with Ruffalo, and they make a believable couple that you'll likely be rooting for right from the first scene. For many actresses, playing someone who virtually abandons her children to their unstable father might be a challenge they can't meet, but Saldana makes her situation believable and sympathetic. The two girls playing the kids are also terrific, with Wolodarsky playing the older child who tries to become a defacto mother figure to her younger, more precocious sister, played by Aufderheide. Both are very cute, but their performances feel naturalistic, and un-mannered, unlike a lot of other child actors.
INFINITELY POLAR BEAR's director, Maya Forbes makes her directorial debut here, but you'd never know it was a first film as it's so confidently directed. She even manages to convey a circa 1970's setting without making it feel tacked on. In a nod to Abrams' geek cred, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY's Keir Dullea shows up in a quick cameo as Ruffalo's blue-blood dad, nailing the posh Botonian accent. Clearly, great things are in store for both Forbes and the film. Don't walk in expecting any kind of serious or even realistic look at mental illness as that's not what this is. However, if you want feel-good family entertainment, POLAR BEAR fits the bill nicely.
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