Infinitely Polar Bear is a realistic look at mental illness, life, love and parenting

Sony Pictures Classics

Sony Pictures Classics

Bipolar disorder affects 5.7 million Americans with symptoms usually beginning between 14 and 25 years old can but can occur in children as well as older adults. The National Institute of Mental Health states: “bipolar disorder, also known as manic depressive illness, is a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.” Bipolar disorder affects an equal number of women and men and is found across racial, ethnic and social classes. Bipolar disorder tends to run in families. Infinitely Polar Bear is a movie is about such a family.

Infinitely Polar Bear is about a loving family and how they deal with mental illness. Writer/producer Maya Forbes shines in this heartfelt biopic about growing up in a family where one of her parents is bipolar (Polar Bear). The movie begins in the 60s where two college students, Cameron (Mark Ruffalo) and Maggie (Zoe Saldana), fall in love. He has a nervous breakdown but Maggie doesn’t care, she’s in love. They get married and have two children, Amelia (Imogene Wolodarsky) and Faith (Ashley Aufderheide). Fast forward to another nervous breakdown and how the Stuart family deals with life, being apart and being together. Get your tissues ready as you laugh and cry in this tear-jerker of a movie!

Mark Ruffalo is brilliant as the bipolar Cameron Stuart. tweet

Ruffalo is brilliant as he plays unpredictable chain-smoker Cameron Stuart aka Cam. He is a bipolar man who’s left with the responsibility of taking care of his two daughters Amelia and Faith. He’s zany, he is bitchy and ever so crazy but he loves his daughters, and through trial and tribulation learns how to take care of them. He makes life fun, and stressful, for them. I love it when he takes his girls to see his wealthy great grandmother’s home. He asks the girls if they want to tour the home and nonchalantly says, “Sweetheart, it’s Boston, they are practically expecting us!” I also like how good he is with kids, and when they are forced to move, he helps his daughters make new friends.

Saldana plays oh so in love Maggie. Saldana nails it playing the strong, never wavering wife, so in love with Cameron that she loves him despite his disability. I’m sure his unpredictable behavior would have scared many women away but not Maggie. Tears rolled down my face as Maggie had to call the police on her husband having a scary nervous breakdown in front of their kids. She tries to calm the fears of her children as they huddle and watch their dad being taken away by the police. Maggie has to make so many difficult decisions for her family and she does so with strength, perseverance and grace. Indebted, stressed and overwhelmed, Maggie makes the ultimate sacrifice to keep her family afloat: she goes to school out of state to afford a better life for her and her family. Unable to find work in the place where her family lives, will Maggie ever be reunited with her kids and husband?

Wolodarsky debuts as 12-year-old Amelia Stuart, a feisty, precocious older sister who unabashedly loves her family and is sometimes embarrassed by them too. She is strong, she is opinionated and she is real! When she cries, you can’t help but cry with her! When her father curses at her on the front steps of the school, she gathers her resolve and slowly walks away. Amelia is fearless and fearful, sometimes simultaneously. She’s a natural!

Aufderheide portrays the sweet, innocent younger sister Faith. Forced to grow up a bit too fast, she still enjoys just being a kid. What a wonderful performance! I love it when the girls finally take friends to their apartment and when asked why they have so much stuff Faith blurts out her father is totally a polar bear! Her sister corrects her by saying “he’s bipolar!” She is so convincing with her emotions that I am surprised she is so young. We should be seeing a lot more from this actress!

I found Beth Dixon an interesting character as Pauline “Gaga” Stuart, matriarch to one of Boston’s old-money families. An elderly, eccentric spit-fire, Dixon is the executor of the Stuart estate and doles out small pittances of money as she sees fit. Yet when Cam takes his girls for a visit, and she finds out from her great granddaughters that there is a large hole in the floor of the $300 car he grandson just bought, instead of being frugal she gives him a Bentley when she owns other cars that are far less expensive. Yes, she gives her grandson a Bentley. Does Cam take it and sell it to get their family out of debt?

Theodore Shapiro wrote four original tracks for the movie that I really enjoyed: “Depressed,” “Kung-Fu Picnic,” “Hole in the Floor” and “The Pick-Up Game.” Each song fit perfectly into what was happening on the screen. I liked “Kung-Fu Picnic” the best because Cam had taken his daughters to the park along with the new friends they made. For fun Cam decided to teach the kids some cool kung-fu moves, they kicked and laughed and kicked some more, it was loads of fun!

My favorite part of the movie is when the girls want to go spend time with their friends after school and their father tries to make them feel guilty as they walk away. Amelia starts to cry because all she wants is to be a kid and play with her friends. She knows if she turns around her inner strength will melt and she will give up fun with friends to appease her father. Do they stay or do they go? That is something you will have to find out for yourself!

I was so disappointed when the movie ended; I wanted for there to be more. A mere 88 minutes, long enough to rope you in but not satiate you. I definitely want more. Audience members agreed this movie was much too short. We want more, we want more! Just as it was getting good and there was light shining brightly at the end of the tunnel! I hope there are plans for an Infinitely Polar Bear Two. I can “bearly” wait!

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