Infinitely Polar Bear
by E. Ladd
Infinitely Polar Bear is writer/director Maya Forbes’ autobiographical film about a period of her childhood when she and her little sister were living with their father in a less-than-affluent area of Boston. It’s Forbes’ directorial debut, but she has been a writer and producer for a multitude of television shows and films, including The Larry Sanders Show, which earned her several Emmy nominations. She has changed the names of the characters, but the story is still hers.
Through a series of Super 8 home movies, the film opens with 11-year-old narrator Amelia (Imogene Wolodarsky, daughter of director Forbes) chronicling the meeting of her parents Cam (Mark Ruffalo) and Maggie (Zoe Saldana) while at college in 1967. From the beginning, we are informed that Cam, irrepressibly charming and often acting with reckless abandon, suffers from manic depression and is later diagnosed as having bipolar disorder. Fast-forward to 1978 where Cam and Maggie, now married, are living in rural Massachusetts with daughters Amelia and younger sister Faith (Ashley Aufderheide). Cam’s once fun, yet erratic behavior has become a little too much to bear. He can’t keep a job and would much rather prefer to romp about the woods drinking, chain smoking cigarettes, and sometimes wearing little more than a red Speedo. One manic outburst scares Maggie and the girls to the point where the police are called and he is committed to a mental hospital. Cam is eventually released to a halfway house and Maggie has moved the family to a small apartment in the city. Working a dead end job and in the hopes of securing a better financial future, Maggie decides to return to grad school. The only problem is that she’s received a scholarship to Columbia, which is in NYC and not Boston. So, in an unlikely turn of events, Cam moves in and becomes the sole caretaker of his two daughters for a period of 18 months. The bulk of the film focuses on those months and the relationship between Cam and the girls.
This is a delightful little film and Mark Ruffalo is truly funny. I couldn’t help shaking my head, stiffly giggles, and often thinking: Good Lord, what is this ridiculous man doing? One notable scene, where Maggie is preparing to leave for New York, features the eccentric Cam in matching emerald colored shorts and polo shirt as he helps pack and repack the van. Sad to see her go and overwhelmed with the responsibility he’s about to undertake, the one remorse he expresses is “I wish I hadn’t dressed like a big green bug”.
The performances are excellent, all around, and the story is simple and filmed with care. A true and heartfelt ode to her father, Forbes has a gift for nuance and the observations about her family and their relationships are well captured. It’s a character study of a man living and dealing with his own mental instability, and although it may have been told through a possibly rose-colored perception of her past, Forbes has created an enjoyable, sweet film.
Watch the trailer for Infinitely Polar Bear
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