INFINITELY POLAR BEAR
Cam (Mark Ruffalo), a manic-depressive mess of a father tries to win back his wife Maggie (Zoe Saldana) by attempting to take full responsibility of their two young, spirited daughters Amelia and Faith (Imogene Wolodarsky & Ashley Aufderheide), who don't make the overwhelming task any easier. He finds himself a single father when his wife reluctantly goes to another city in order to provide for their family. With a track record of not fulfilling expectations, Cam is determined to overcome his disease and prove to his family that he can be the man they need him to be.
Review by Louise Keller:
Domestic chaos is delicately handled, in this feature debut by Maya Forbes, whose childhood experiences living with her bi-polar father while her mother studies form a kaleidoscope of tumultuous emotional adventures. Mark Ruffalo's endearing portrayal turns the key to our heart, while the two youngsters who play the siblings dealing with the everyday pandemonium are a delight as the family dynamic shifts and role reversals tug at convention. It's a bit like a roller coaster ride: we never know when things are likely to go pear shape or soar to an unexpected high. But it doesn't entirely play convincingly - the laughs often overshadow credibility.
Cameron's breakdown in 1978 - 11 years after he and wife Maggie (Zoe Saldana) meet, fall in love and have two daughters - is the starting point for the narrative. Hospital, medication and a half-way house follows. A leap of faith is required to believe that Maggie would leave daughters Amelia (Imogene Wolodarsky) and Faith (Ashley Aufderheide) with their father in Boston, while she studies in New York. The mild protests by Cam's parents seem inadequate somehow, although we do understand there are unusual circumstances as to why his wealthy family does not lend a helping hand to the struggling family.
Please don't introduce yourself; you talk too much, his daughters tell Cameron, who are constantly embarrassed by their father and his constantly inappropriate behaviour. Life is a never-ending stream of laughs - but it is only funny if you watching from afar. The apartment is a junkyard, neighbours avoid him and Amelia and Faith go to extreme lengths never to invite friends home. As the seasons change, so do the problems and issues. The scene when Cam burns the midnight oil sewing a flamenco skirt for Faith's school talent show is especially memorable. Meanwhile, Maggie returns home from New York every weekend, never knowing what new chaos she will find.
For me, the most wonderful part of Forbes' film is the expressive interaction between Ruffalo and the two youngsters, Aufderheide and Wolodarsky. The expressions on the girls' faces are priceless and as for the role reversal by the film's end... it will bring a lump to your throat.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
In what seems a feat of heroic proportions, Cam (Mark Ruffalo) tries to overcome his bi-polar / manic-depressive condition - usually but not always with regular medication - to look after his two daughters Amelia and Faith (Imogene Wolodarsky & Ashley Aufderheide), as a mother would. Their mother, Maggie (Zoe Soldana) is away getting an MBA so she can soon earn enough as a professional to save them from the clutches of poverty, which Cam's unemployable status renders them.
The fact that Cam comes from a wealthy Boston family is a sore point; they're not much help. The fact that Cam has a natural tendency to chaos is not much help either. The challenges are there, but the film never really treats the material as tough drama, nor as situation comedy. The complexities of the backstory are not addressed, yet there would be some helpful material there, given the story is inspired by debuting filmmaker Maya Forbes' own life experiences.
Episodic in its structure and true to its 70s setting, the playfulness and the genuine dilemmas of modern life clash and burn out. Cam's chain smoking habit is good for one humorous scene when the girls place home made placards around their apartment warning of the risks. The downside is having to watch Ruffalo with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth or being lit up or being inhaled in every single scene.
There is little new or fresh in the subject matter and there are a few too many collage sequences, which serve to drag the pace and down the mood.
The film's saving grace is the cast, especially perhaps the two girls, Imogene Wolodarsky and the younger Ashley Aufderheide, who deliver vibrant and authentic performances, charming and real and utterly convincing.
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INFINITELY POLAR BEAR (M)
CAST: Zoe Saldana, Mark Ruffalo, Keir Dullea, Ashley Aufderheide, Imogene Wolodarsky, Wallace Wolodarsky, Beth Dixon, Manoah Angelo
PRODUCER: Sam Bisbee, Bingo Gubelman, Benjo Kohn, Galt Niederhoffer, Wallace Wolodarsky
DIRECTOR: Maya Forbes
SCRIPT: Maya Forbes
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Bobby Bukowski
EDITOR: Michael R. Miller
MUSIC: Theodore Shapiro
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Carl Sprague
RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: StudioCanal
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 26, 2014