January 25, 2016

Infinitely Polar Bear

Maya Forbes, 2015
While everyone is spending the year gushing over Mark Ruffalo's performance in Spotlight, they really should instead gush over his performance in Infinitely Polar Bear. And just like Spotlight, he plays a conflicted man in a dysfunctional marriage living in Boston. But while his Spotlight performance is a more subdued one, his Polar Bear performance is anything but.

Ruffalo plays Cam, a father struggling with bipolar disorder while trying to raise his two young daughters while his wife is in law school. The first moments of the film show him in the middle of a manic episode, chasing his wife down the driveway mostly naked on a bicycle while they rush to drive away in their old car to escape his chaos. Funny, but serious. Which is sort of the tone for the rest of the film. Funny at times, serious at times. Ruffalo manages to juggle the two quite remarkably. The back and forth, the ups and downs are displayed on screen like a constant battle he endures on a daily basis.

Ruffalo really steals the show, as he is capable of doing these days. There are black comedy elements, especially when approaching the whole problem of codependency that the family faces. The two daughters are clearly not brought up in a healthy household, but there is a distinctive tumultuous energy that keeps them engaged with each other. Kind of sweet but also unsettling. It's sweet how Cam stays up all night to piece together a dress for his daughter but also very unsettling how he can so quickly run out of the apartment to go drinking while they vulnerably sit at home.

That's the one of the problems with Infinitely Polar Bear. It's a little too indecisive, too disorganized. It gives you something to laugh at and something to ache for, but doesn't balance the two enough to make a lasting impression. Zoe Saldana, who plays Cam's wife Maggie, is not as composite as Cam's. Her ability to constantly (and conveniently for the story) leave the family feels unbelievable. Part of the film is Cam filming things on a handheld camera, with constant jumps to the amateur footage, but it feels kind of unneeded. But one thing it does do is approach mental illness in an endearing, non-judging way that isn't so often done, and for that it definitely deserves some praise.

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