Thursday, June 18, 2015

“Infinitely Polar Bear”– Movie Review



This week, I attended a New York Times Film Club screening of the new comedy-drama, “Infinitely Polar Bear”, starring Mark Ruffalo and Zoe Saldana.


When a man is diagnosed with manic depressive disorder, can he regain the trust of his wife and daughters or will he be destined to lose them forever?


After exhibiting behavior that ranges from tons of fun to terrifying, Cameron (Ruffalo) is hospitalized by his wife, Maggie (Saldana) to protect herself and their two daughters, Amelia and Faith (Imogene Wolodarsky and Ashley Aufderheide).  Cameron is diagnosed as being bipolar and immediately prescribed Lithium.  Following his hospitalization, Cameron is transferred to a halfway house once his condition has sufficiently stabilized.  Missing his family after such a lengthy absence, his goal now is to simply go home – but can they trust him enough to take him back? 

An opportunity arises when Columbia University accepts Maggie to their Masters program in Business Administration.  The good news is that this gives Maggie a much-needed chance to advance her career and get a job that will help better support the family without having to rely on Cameron’s grandmother (a wealthy dowager who oversees his trust fund and very sparingly doles out money).   Where this becomes a problem is that the school is in New York City, which will require Maggie to leave her family behind in Boston.  Ultimately, she decides to take the accelerated program that will allow her to earn the degree in only a year and a half – but this will require her to have Cameron take care of Amelia and Faith in her absence.  While Cameron is enthusiastic about a chance at redemption, Maggie remains reluctant. 

Even though the daughters have missed their father, things don’t take too long to get a bit rocky.  For one thing, Cameron sometimes goes off his medication, resulting in occasionally erratic behavior.  Embarrassing his daughters in front of their friends, they soon become fed up and frequently fight with Cameron.  Although Maggie visits every weekend, she can’t do enough to fix the situation.  Finally, Maggie nears graduation and begins the job search; although most companies in Boston are reluctant to hire her, there’s one New York City-based organization that makes her a firm offer.  Will Maggie take that job and move the daughters to New York City or will she turn down the chance of a lifetime so her girls can stay near their father? 


There are notable problems with “Infinitely Polar Bear” – the corny directing and sappy script (particularly some of the dialog) come immediately to mind.  However, one bright note here is the performance by Mark Ruffalo; he is able to capture the essence of Cameron’s manic behavior without going completely overboard and making the character look like a cartoonish Jim Carrey type of role.  On the other hand – and this goes back to issues with the screenplay – Cameron is mostly seen in his manic moments and very rarely in the depressive times, which makes the movie feel less realistic than it otherwise could. 

Unfortunately, Ruffalo’s performance is not nearly sufficient to elevate “Infinitely Polar Bear” to the point that it can be recommended.  The story ends with the feeling that it just suddenly stopped because it ran out of steam, rather than because it reached a resolution.  Characters – especially Cameron, since he seems to be the focal point here – don’t really have an arc; they are somewhat flat and don’t truly change, although the situations around them certainly do.  Also, the fact that Cameron’s tendency towards poor judgment that periodically puts the two daughters in potentially perilous conditions is never made an issue.

Maya Forbes, writer-director of “Infinitely Polar Bear”, supposedly based the movie on her own life; her father was said to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder and growing up in that environment obviously left a substantial impression.  Perhaps the problem here is precisely that – that fact that Forbes based it on true personal events may mean that she’s too close to the story to be able to tell it in a dramatic narrative that makes it a cohesive film.  The motion picture gets its title from what is intended as a joke in one scene when a daughter mispronounces “bipolar”.   

Infinitely Polar Bear (2014) on IMDb

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