Cameron (Mark Ruffalo) is manic depressive who after a stint of being hospitalized, is on the other side trying to better his life. His semi-estranged wife, Maggie (Zoe Saldana), wants to go back to school to be able to give her children a good and supportive lifestyle. In order to achieve this in a society that’s already knocking her down due to her gender, she enlists Cameron to help. He will watch their daughters in Boston, while she heads to New York in order to attend grad school while coming back every weekend. What ensues is a touching, and enormously detailed and honest look at one family, their journey and their hope for happiness.
There are moments in Maya Forbes’ semi-autobiographical film, Infinitely Polar Bear, where I thought “I know that character.” I was never the daughter in the film and I can’t say I relate terribly to the father’s mental illness or the mother’s plight for independence – those aren’t my stories and they don’t have to me. I see my story in bits and pieces, fragments of Forbes’ story resonated stronger than most due to her unflinching honesty. Cameron is not always a great dad – far from it and his two spirited daughters are intelligent, sure, but still naive and selfish like most children. Their shouts of them not wanting their friends to see how they live is cringe worthy to watch because while we see their point of view as kids who don’t know much better, we also see it from Cameron’s side, where he points out that they have nothing to be ashamed of because none of it is their fault.
Written and directed by Forbes, the film only falters when it begins to write itself into circles. The girls face a new crisis, Cameron must find a way to overcome his issues and help out. He and Maggie have a falling out due to something he’s done, and he must rebuild that trust. There isn’t much new territory in the film and most of the mistakes made, and most of the drama hinges on the familiar within it’s own film. Forbes is writing from life experience, and in life, the problems that arise aren’t always new, and often times the same hurdle is going to present itself time and time again for you to scramble your way over. It’s true to life, and it’s recognizable as such, but it doesn’t make for the most thrilling cinematic storytelling tool.
Mark Ruffalo shines as Cameron, arguably giving one of his strongest performances to date as a damaged man who’s trying his best to overcome his obstacles while also allowing his pride to block him from making the progress he needs for his health. He isn’t always a likeable character, but he’s a sympathetic one, and he’s someone you sit and root for. If anything, Ruffalo’s performance as Cameron is most comparable to his character in HBO’s The Normal Heart. It’s clear that Forbes enjoyed shooting Ruffalo, allowing him to run away with the words she had written.
I do, however, wish we would have gotten a chance to see more of Saldana as Maggie. She had an effortless charisma, sharing strong chemistry with Ruffalo, and Maggie’s storyline was just as interesting, just sadly separated from the majority of the action.
Infinitely Polar Bear is a flawed film but it’s a touching one, with the type of characters I’d like to see more of in film. From the way their apartment is shot, to the daughters’ tumultuous yet loving relationship with their father, to the way that these characters are allowed to be human, are some of the many reasons why it’s worth checking out.
Director: Maya Forbes
Film Length: 88 minutes
June 19, 2015 (Limited)
July 3, 2015 (Wide)
Distributor: Sony Picture Classics