Last night my husband and I went to see “Infinity Polar Bear”.
The film stars Mark Raffalo and Zoe Saldano. It is about a man, Cameron (Ruffalo) with bipolar disorder who is left in charge of his two young daughters when his wife, Maggie (Saldano) moves from Boston to New York City to go to business school in 1978. A story set in the late seventies about a father left to raise the children while the wife furthers her education would be interesting enough but when you factor in his mental illness you have the recipe for all kinds of drama.
For a movie about mental illness “Infinity Polar Bear” is surprisingly lighthearted. That isn’t to say it’s a comedy but there are funny moments. Ruffalo is excellent and manages to portray his characters illness as well as his love for his daughters and the conflict that comes with those two things. As good as he is I did feel like you could tell he was ACTING, it wasn’t as seamless as some of his other performances.
I actually found Saldano’s performance the strongest of the film. It’s fun to play the mentally ill person but to try to make the audience understand the motivations of Maggie is much more complicated.
In addition to trying to balance the challenges of having a mentally ill husband and two daughter’s Maggie also has to deal with being African American thirty years before Barack Obama’s presidency. Her final scene moved me to tears.
The premise of the film may sound outrageous but the writer/director, Maya Forbes, has described the film as autobiographical. Her bipolar father really was left in charge of her and her sister when her mother went off to business school. I think that is important because it helps the viewer understand why the film is a little soft, at times, in its portrayal of bipolar disorder. Forbes cast her own daughter, Imogene Wolodorsky, as one of the Cameron and Maggie’s two daughters. The other daughter is played by Ashley Aufderheide. Both young actresses are fantastic, they find the right balance between cute and slightly damaged. If anybody has had a relationship where they felt they were the adult and their parent was the child they will identify with these two girls.
They are put in very difficult situations that no child should be put in.
Overall, although it’s not perfect I really liked “Infinity Polar Bear”. It is very much worth seeing and I do admire Raffalo for switching off between popcorn trash like “The Avengers” and indie films like this. I am really glad I saw it in the theatre instead of some garbage like “Ted 2”.
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