Infinitely Polar Bear
Some may feel this is a sensitively humorous portrayal of the impact of mental illness on family life, but I am not one of them. The story of a manic-depressive dad (sic – nowadays of course we’d say bipolar, but since this film is set in the ‘70s it reasonably uses the jargon of the era) wreaking havoc on his long-suffering wife and cute-as-a-button daughters before eventually finding equilibrium is nothing more than discomfiting and slightly cringy viewing.
One has to respect writer-director Maya Forbes’ bringing her own childhood to the screen, and therefore acknowledge when we see an overacting Mark Ruffalo riding a bike in red undies and a bandana – in the middle of winter – that this may indeed evoke a direct experience from her past.
But Forbes’ rookie creative misfires include an infernally jaunty soundtrack full of hand-claps and tambourines and an obvious and overly “cute” script. This is her directorial debut, but as a film writer whose experience includes Monsters vs. Aliens and Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Forbes has managed to conscript acting talent in the form of Oscar neglectee Ruffalo (sadly eschewing the nuance seen in Foxcatcher and rendering “Crazy Dad” excruciating) and the lovely Zoe Saldana, who is finally freed from sci-fi epics Avatar, Star Trek and Guardians of the Galaxy to play an unrealistically sympathetic human woman.
The film is a real mixed bag. The precocious children are terrific, particularly Forbes’ own daughter Imogene Wolodarsky who plays the spirited Amelia Lavender, wise beyond her years and a natural at spouting feisty dialogue. But despite touching on worthy issues of gender politics and overcoming interpersonal adversity, Infinitely Polar Bear does a lot while saying very little, ultimately doing no justice to those who experience mental illness, from within or without.