Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Zoe Saldana, Imogene Wolodarsky
Directed by: Maya Forbes (debut)
Written by: Maya Forbes (“Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days”)
With a movie title as cutesy and sappy as “Infinitely Polar Bear,” a play on the fact that the main father character is living with bi-polar disorder, one could’ve imagined this independent drama falling under the disease-of-the-week umbrella where audiences would be subjected to a series of melodramatic scenes edited between unimaginative montages and glossed over to fit the standard indie film festival mold.
Such is not the case with “Polar Bear,” a charming and heartfelt albeit occasionally shamelessly sweet drama that rises above some of the weaker parts of the script with a fantastic performance by two-time Oscar-nominated actor Mark Ruffalo (“Foxcatcher”), In in the film, Ruffalo plays Cameron Stewart, a manic depressive father living in Boston who is entrusted to take care of his two young daughters (Imogene Wolodarsky and Ashley Aufderheide) while their mother Maggie (Zoe Saldana) goes to graduate school in New York so she can make a better life for her family.
Shot with grace and brimming with humor, what makes “Polar Bear” memorable is not only Ruffalo’s impressive take on the role, but also the way his character interacts with his daughters during the course of the year and a half their mother is back and forth between cities. Cameron is not a perfect father. He can’t take care of himself much less a pair of rambunctious kids. The family dynamic director/writer Maya Forbes presents is unique as we watch daddy and daughters try to find a way to coexist. Forbes does this without including all the usual clichés about a dysfunctional family trying to survive. The material feels new.
Some messy plot development aside, “Polar Bear” warms the heart and feels very personal. It’s easy to see that Forbes, who bases the film on her own experiences living with a father who was manic-depressive, isn’t just making a movie. She’s sharing intimate thoughts and feelings and doing it in a way that makes the narrative feel significant and never false.