Funny and tenderly sad, Infinitely Polar Bear gives us a taste of what it’s like living with bipolar disorder as a person and as a family member. Writer/director Maya Forbes apparently knows of what she speaks because every bit of the film rings true, from the mental disorder, to the kids’ behavior, to the challenges one parent takes on in pursuing an education and the other taking on household responsibilities with little prior experience. It’s also remarkable in showing the amount of patience, love, and commitment it takes for each person to muddle through. Finally, it’s refreshing to see a film about a family in which the communication is out front, including allowing the children to speak their minds freely.
The story begins on a rather pessimistic note with Cam (Ruffalo) getting fired from his job and entering a manic episode. He is admitted to the hospital where he looks like a zombie at first, but gradually becomes well enough to go to a halfway house. His wife Maggie (Saldana) plugs away at a job far beneath her qualifications, and their girls Amelia (Wolodarsky) and Faith (Ashley Aufderheide) have to transfer to a substandard school.
Then good problem solving gets them on a better—although not ideal—track. Maggie is accepted by Columbia University to work on an MBA, the downside of which is that she must be away from home during the week for 18 months. At first, Cam is taken aback and overwhelmed, but Maggie expresses her confidence in him to take care of the girls. As expected, it’s rocky along the way, what with lapses on Cam’s part, car breakdowns, and the endless demands of keeping up with the dishes and the laundry. But the young girls admirably step up to the plate and take on more responsibility, which is good for them. It’s also rewarding to see how handy Cam is in fixing whatever is broken and creatively constructing all kinds of solutions to meet their needs.
The story ends on a hopeful note, although not with everything tied up neatly with a bow. But I can say that in the end, we are confident that “the kids will be all right.”
My hat is off to Mark Ruffalo for being willing to take on a househusband role and be impaired to boot! And he does a magnificent job! I hope he receives nominations for such a challenging project. He and Zoe Saldana work together beautifully and convincingly in portraying heroic parents in reality-based troubling situations. It is gratifying to hear that young Wolodarsky—without any prior acting experience—nails her role. It’s in her blood literally, I suppose, in that she is the daughter of Forbes and one of the producers, Wallace Solodarsky.
Ah, the music in this film! Whenever a scene needs it, award-winning Theodore Shapiro (Hope Springs, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Marley and Me, The Devil Wears Prada) comes up with exactly the right songs and orchestral interludes to enhance the effects of the drama.
An infinitely rewarding film.