Left to right: Mark Ruffalo as Cam Stuart, Imogene Wolodarsky as Amelia Stuart and Ashley Aufderheide as Faith Stuart
Photo by Claire Folger, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
INFINITELY POLAR BEAR
2015, 88 minutes
Rated R for language
Review by Joshua Handler
Maya Forbes' Infinitely Polar Bear is a film of great love and heart. Many movies released nowadays are well-made, yet lack heart, so to find one like Infinitely Polar Bear is a rarity. Based on Forbes' experiences growing up with a manic-depressive father, Infinitely Polar Bear's tone shifts as drastically as protagonist Cam Stuart's temper, and while this will throw many viewers off, the film is wrapped in so much love that it made me want to experience the highs and lows. And, because Forbes has control over her film, these shifts seem natural. Many have criticized Forbes for shying away from the darker aspects of mental illness, but I would argue that it's completely appropriate because Forbes has such a reverence and respect for her main character.
Infinitely Polar Bear follows Cam Stuart (Mark Ruffalo), his wife, Maggie (Zoe Saldana), and his two children, Amelia (Imogene Wolodarsky, Forbes' daughter), and Faith (Ashley Aufderheide) as Cam has to care for his children when Maggie goes off to school in NYC to try to make a better life for the family.
Forbes never sugarcoats the fact that mental illness is devastating, but she never revels in it because her film is told largely from the point of view of two children, meant to represent Forbes and her own sister. The effects of their father's illness loom large on their lives, but because they're children and try to see the good in things, they and the film focus on the positive.
Through Infinitely Polar Bear, Forbes has shown herself to be a sensitive and humane director. As memorable and moving as Infinitely Polar Bear's biggest moments are, it's in the small moments that the film really shines and Forbes' knack for capturing minute behavior is most apparent. Take, for example, a scene in which Cam comes back home after exploding in anger. He goes back into the family apartment appearing to be angry. As he goes over to his children, we worry that he will explode on them once again. Instead, he goes towards the children and puts his arms around them, apologizing. It's unexpected moments like this perfectly played, unpredictable moment of vulnerability that showed Forbes' strength as a director and her love and understanding of her material and her father.
Mark Ruffalo carries much of the weight of the film on his shoulders, and it's his charm, energy, and personality that make Cam Stuart lovable, flaws and all. Ruffalo's performance is big, but he knows when to hold back. Through him and through the excellent screenplay that Forbes has written, it's always apparent why Forbes loved her father so much. It should also be noted that Wolodarsky and Aufderheide are also very strong and complement Ruffalo very well. Additionally, Theodore Shapiro's score is delightful.
Overall, Infinitely Polar Bear is a loose string of anecdotes that come together to create a warm, realistic portrait of an unconventional family. Many might wonder why they should see this over the countless other Sundance films about unconventional families dealing with mental illness. While Infinitely Polar Bear certainly isn't narratively daring or original, it is an impressively-directed debut with a stellar performance by Mark Ruffalo. There are numerous scenes and moments that stand out from other films due to their insightfulness, tenderness, and universality. Audiences may not be immediately drawn to Infinitely Polar Bear due to its subject matter but should take a leap of faith and see it because it's a sweet crowd-pleaser about embracing flaws and adversity that's very hard not to enjoy.