Infinitely Polar Bear, rated R
This film is written and directed by first-time director Maya Forbes, based on the events of her own childhood growing up in Cambridge, Massachusetts. When Forbes was 6, her father who was manic-depressive/bi-polar, had a series of mental breakdowns, leading to her parent’s separation.
In the film, Mark Ruffalo, one of our better actors (Spotlight, Foxcatcher), delivers perhaps his best performance yet as Cam Stuart. And that’s saying a lot, as I believe he delivered an Oscar worthy performance in Spotlight. The title of the film (Polar Bear), is a play on bi-polar.
The chain-smoking Cam from a respected New England family was diagnosed with manic-depressive disorder in 1967. Maggie, played by Zoe Saldana (Avatar, Star Trek, Guardians of the Galaxy), was aware of his condition when she married him. The couple has two young girls – 12 year old Amelia, played by Forbe’s real-life daughter Imogene Wolodarsky, and based on Forbes herself, and 10 year old Faith, played by Ashley Aufderheide.
Cam has a significant meltdown in 1978 and is hospitalized. The family’s life will not be the same after that, with Maggie eventually moving to New York for eighteen months to get her MBA, coming home most weekends, while Cam looks after the girls (something he probably never should have been asked to do), who have to grow up faster than they should.
Cam is an excellent cook and very resourceful (fixing things in their crowded apartment, pulling an all-nighter sewing a dress for Faith’s school talent show the next day, etc.). He can be overly-friendly to the other residents of the apartment building and he and his daughters can really give it to each other, including a lot of foul language. They are embarrassed of him and their messy apartment, but they love him as well. At times the film is touching and funny, and yet when Cam, who isn’t good at taking his medicine, has his meltdowns, it’s also painful to watch.
The film is rated “R” for a significant amount of adult language and the subject matter of mental illness. Forbes has stated that she wanted to make a film “that was funny, sad, authentic, and warm. I wanted a humane film about the effects of mental illness on a family. I wanted to see resilient children. I wanted to see a movie about love and the hard choices people have to make every day.” I would have to say that she succeeded in her aspirations. The film shows a dysfunctional family trying to make things work. Although it was certainly hard to watch during the times Cam would have his meltdowns, Ruffalo’s excellent performance makes this a film you may want to see; it is now available on DVD.