Infinitely Polar Bear

WRITTEN BY: Maya Forbes
DIRECTED BY: Maya Forbes
STARRING: Mark Ruffalo, Zoe Saldana, Imogene Wolodarsky, Ashley Aufderheide
RATING: 4.5 stars

Set in Boston in the 1970s, Cameron Stuart (Mark Ruffalo) has bipolar disorder, or manic depression, as it was known then. Cameron does not take his medicine and when he drinks too much alcohol, he has the tendency to go off the rails. When he is hospitalised after a breakdown, Cameron is unable to find work and his wife Maggie (Zoe Saldana) cannot pay the bills on her own. So, she makes the heartbreaking decision to get a business degree in New York, leaving Cameron to care for their two daughters (Imogene Wolodarsky and Ashley Aufderheide) on his own for 18 months.

Infinitely Polar Bear is hilarious, endearing and has a strong message without being preachy. The film may not be a totally insightful look at bipolar disorder, but it does go a long way to de-stigmatising it and making it relatable, which is an important first step and one that hopefully people struggling with the disorder can appreciate.

What is so brilliant about this film is that it explores a lot of issues with simplicity, rather than over-reaching and becoming exhaustive. As well as examining life with bipolar disorder, it also covers socio-economic issues, race and gender roles. Cameron comes from a rich family, but his grandmother refuses to give anyone in the family a free handout, so he and his children are forced to live in a small apartment and drive a series of barely roadworthy cars. The girls are bi-racial but one looks “less black” than the other and she struggles to embrace her ethnicity. Meanwhile, Maggie is the breadwinner because Cameron cannot work and he struggles to feel masculine in his own home while she fights for gender equality in the workplace. Maggie is unwittingly a driver of feminism and despite feeling like she has abandoned her daughters, she is in fact teaching them a valuable lesson.

Ruffalo is again outstanding and it seems he can do no wrong on-screen. He makes Cameron empathetic and lovable despite his story being so sad. Saldana has the difficult task of playing a mother who some may battle to understand. Maggie is a good person and is trying to do the best for her family, but there is a sense of reluctant abandonment. Nonetheless, Saldana brings humanity to the character. Wolodarsky and Aufderheide are an absolute delight, giving such raw performances and seeming so natural. In fact, the four of them are all so believable as a family.

Writer/director Maya Forbes has made a wonderfully heart-warming feature film debut, tied up in less than 90 minutes. Infinitely Polar Bear is a sweet family drama with a lot of laughs. See it at the cinema.