Infinitely Polar Bear

Posted by Joel Copling on July 9, 2015

"Infinitely Polar Bear" pivots on a worthy idea without the authenticity to support it, and the final product suffers as a result of this. It's unfortunate, too, because here is a story about a broken man trying to find solace in a family he has clearly fought to build in spite of crippling mental illness. The disorder in question is manic depression, and the man who suffers it is Cameron Stuart, played by Mark Ruffalo in the first of a bevy of disjointed and unconvincing performances (with one exception) that bolden, highlight, and italicize the already melodramatic proceedings, which could have used a softer hand than debuting writer/director Maya Forbes is able to provide and perhaps a longer runtime than ninety minutes.

Cameron and Maggie (Zoe Saldana) are a couple who have been separated ever since a particularly serious episode left Cameron so disaffected that he was forced to take up residence at a halfway house to recover. Now able to cope with taking care of himself, Cameron's newfound freedom keeps time with Maggie's disillusionment with her current financial and economic circumstances: Their two children, Amelia and Faith (Imogene Wolodarsky and Ashley Aufderheide), are attending school in a different county than the one to which they moved because Maggie wants them to have the best education. That is, unfortunately, not how it works, and Maggie's answer to her own troubles is to enroll in business school.

The ensuing move means that Amelia and Faith must live with the unstable Cameron while Maggie visits every weekend. It would be unfair to assume that the decision is a purely selfish one, especially considering it's Maggie's attempt to better life for her children. But so much time spent with only Cameron, whose parenting ability extends to the "teach one's kids how to do stuff" variety when he isn't endangering their lives by leaving in the middle of the night to drink, smoke, and play poker with friends, and the kids, who resent Cameron until, suddenly, they don't anymore, and so little focus on Maggie's success going through 18 months of schooling gives the impression that the movie itself is resentful of her absence.

His parents (Keir Dullea and Beth Dixon) certainly are in one scene that defines the elderly couple entirely by their backward politics--a scene that a curious failure in a movie that has too many of them to ignore. There are scenes that work, but they largely concern Saldana's fine performance (which is the aforementioned single exception among the cast), such as when Amelia, rather randomly, questions her heritage. The child actors here have the air of being generally untested, and Ruffalo constantly waivers between severely manic and slightly less manic in increasingly over-the-top ways. "Infinitely Polar Bear" (a title that partly derives from Faith's misinterpretation of one of the names of Cameron's condition) suffers from undermining its own authenticity with too much of the other stuff.

Film Information

Mark Ruffalo (Cameron Stuart), Zoe Saldana (Maggie Stuart), Imogene Wolodarsky (Amelia Stuart), Ashley Aufderheide (Faith Stuart), Beth Dixon (Pauline Stuart), Keir Dullea (Murray Stuart).

Directed and written by Maya Forbes.

Rated R (language).

90 minutes.

Released in select cities on June 19, 2015.