Ruffalo’s superb performance heats ‘Polar Bear’
By Bob Bloom
Mark Ruffalo’s performance as a father and husband struggling with bipolar depression is the reason to see “Infinitely Polar Bear.”
This troubling family drama tackles a serious subject in a rather lighthearted manner, yet still adheres to its emphasis on showing not only the impact of this illness on the person who must battle it, but the family, as well.
Ruffalo adeptly displays a multifaceted individual who continually deals with euphoric highs with bursts of positive energy or devastating lows where he lashes out at those around him whom he loves most.
Ruffalo’s Cameron Stuart loves to hunt mushrooms and cook elaborate meals. His family’s wealth keeps him and his loved ones from poverty, even though they just manage to scrape by.
When Cam suffers a breakdown and is institutionalized, his wife, Maggie (Zoe Saldana), and his daughters, Amelia (Imogene Wolodarsky) and Faith (Ashley Aufderheide), are forced to leave their country home and take a small apartment in Cambridge.
Maggie, who is having problems finding a good-paying job, decides to return to business school and is accepted to Columbia University’s MBA program.
Maggie asks Cameron, now in a halfway house, to move into the apartment and take care of the girls, while she is in New York earning her degree.
The main part of the movie is watching the period of adjustment as Cameron deals with being a full-time parent and caregiver, while the girls learn to gauge their father’s mood swings.
As portrayed by Ruffalo, Cameron is a person others run away from. His highs are off-putting, making people nervous and uncomfortable, as he tries to be a friendly and helpful neighbor.
His daughters are continually embarrassed, ashamed — and sometimes a bit afraid — of his behavior.
The girls and Cameron gradually regain their cohesion as a family unit, even though they continue to hit bumps along the road.
What makes “Infinitely Polar Bear” work so well is the emotional strength that bonds the family. Maggie loves and is understanding of Cam, despite the frustrations he creates by sometimes going off his meds or his lack of self-control when dealing with his daughters.
Cameron wants Maggie to better herself, despite missing her guidance and help in engaging with his children on a daily basis.
Writer-director Maya Forbes sets a sweet and compassionate tone throughout as she charts Cameron’s trial-and-error growth as a parent.
The film has a few dull spots but, overall, is redeemed by Ruffalo’s excellent performance, which, if there is justice in the universe, should earn him a best actor Academy Award nomination.
“Infinitely Polar Bear” succeeds because of the compassionate manner in which it deals with mental illness, showing that patience, loyalty and loving support can be their own medications to help a person find the necessary balance to be a productive member of society.
Bloom is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. His reviews appear at ReelBob (reelbob.com) and The Film Yap (filmyap.com). He also reviews Blu-rays and DVDs. He can be reached by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom. Other reviews by Bloom can be found at Rottentomatoes: www.rottentomatoes.com.
INFINITELY POLAR BEAR
3½ stars out of 4
(R), language, some violence