Infinitely Polar Bear (Review)

Mark Ruffalo stars in this charming true story about an interracial family in the late 1970s who must deal with the severe manic-depression of the dad Cam Stewart (Ruffalo). After losing his job and reacting by taking his daughters out of school for a day in the great outdoors, Cam becomes increasingly unhinged and the mother Maggie Stewart (Zoe Saldana) tries to take her daughters away. Cam is eventually hospitalised and once released faces rebuilding his life and relationships while navigating through bipolar disorder.

Maggie, who is extremely bright and wants a better job and opportunities for the future, decides to study in New York. She can get her degree in 18 months but Her daughters will have to stay in Boston. Cam, unstable, ingenious, and desperate to regain the affection of his wife and the trust of his daughters; is enlisted to care for them while their mother is away. I need not spoil any more of the plot.

Mark Ruffalo gives a truly superb performance, utterly convincing as a sufferer of such a condition, and showing the positives as well as the negatives of the extreme highs and extreme lows of manic depression. Zoe Saldana plays her compassionate but firm role with panache, even if there is less scope inhabiting the ‘straight’ character. While Ruffalo gets to yell and upturn tables while chain-smoking his lungs away, Saldana has to own the quiet desperation of a black woman struggling to better herself amid 1970s racist and sexist attitudes.

The two daughters are played by Imogene Wolodarsky as Amelia Stuart, and Ashley Aufderheide as Faith Stuart. Both do well as distinct individuals and beloved sisters. In their scenes with Ruffalo they rib him and love him with an authenticity that is difficult to fake. Ultimately this film is and feels deeply personal, and despite the occasional moment of unease it is very uplifting. I hope it goes some way to lifting the veil on manic-depression, by showing that through the trials of mental illness it is ultimately vital human relationships that brings harmony to chaos.

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