Infinitely Polar Bear

Infinitely Polar Bear photo starrating-2andahalfstars.jpgWriter Maya Forbes’ (TV’s The Larry Sanders Show) directorial debut is based on her reminiscences of her father — who had bipolar disorder. Set in 1978, our saga focuses on a period when she was 10 years old. He was the primary caregiver for Forbes and her 8 year old sister while their mother was studying for an MBA at Columbia Business School in New York City. Two free spirited daughters being raised by a parent with mental illness, proves to be a formidable task.

The cast is likable. In the movie, the young Maya Forbes is portrayed by her actual daughter in real life (Imogene Wolodarsky). Although the character is fictionalized as Amelia Stuart. Her younger sister China, is named Faith here (Ashley Aufderheide). Both actresses are making their feature film debuts and both are warm and natural. They give the film a genuine, unaffected element. Mark Ruffalo and Zoe Saldana are parents Cam and Maggie Stuart. They’re pleasant enough but their performances are a bit more studied. In particular Mark Ruffalo’s manic depressive father alternates between wacky dad and weird dad. One minute he’s telling his daughters to join him in the forest to pick mushrooms.  The next, mother is locking herself in the car with her daughters to escape his scary behavior. Unemployed Cam never gives the slightest indication he is capable of raising two daughters alone, so it makes Mom’s decision to leave them in his care perplexing.

Infinitely Polar Bear seeks to put a smiley face on dad’s affliction. That colors this account as a very shallow production. The lives of Father and his 2 daughters are presented as a series of highs and lows with little insight into any of it. As the filtered recollections of a child, that would explain the lack of sense.  Obviously the autobiographical tale is a personal project for Maya.  Her husband, Wally Wolodarsky, even co-produced. She presents this earnest drama as a sugarcoated valentine to her father who passed away in 1998. I’ll give the chronicle points for heart and sincerity. But Maya Forbes can’t seem to make the events in these people’s lives seem like anything more substantial than quirky gimmicks. The production is merely a whimsical roller coaster of contrivances designed to tug at your heartstrings. Infinitely Polar Bear comes across more like a sunny sitcom called My Goofy Dad than a thoughtful portrait of a man suffering from a serious mental illness.

07-03-15

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8 Responses to “Infinitely Polar Bear”

  1. Great review. I didn’t know the movie was based on a real story. Actors were very realistic but nothing exciting or deep really happened. Good but not great. 3 stars

  2. Eager to watch Infinitely Polar Bear just based on the wide range of reactions to it. Yours is certainly not the only less enthusiastic one, so I guess I’ll tread lightly going into this. My hopes have been high though as Mark Ruffalo can do very little wrong in my eyes

  3. davecrewe Says:

    I guess I felt like it was more a story of the daughters than Ruffalo, but loved his work anyway. To each their own!

  4. Infinitely Polar Bear is one I haven’t had a chance to watch, although I’m bummed to hear you found it shallow since I’ve heard good things from my friends. I’m not surprised that it’s presented as a series of highs and lows since Ruffalo’s character is bipolar, but I can understand your frustration that there’s little insight into any of it. I don’t think that mental illness often makes a lot of sense though, and I’m not sure there can be much explanation for the wild swings in his behavior. Your comments on how the people’s lives seem like quirky gimmicks and that the movie comes across like a sitcom are a little disheartening, because the film seems like it sets out to tell a more complex story than that. I’ll be curious to see if I feel the same way when I sit down to watch the movie.

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