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Review: Infinitely Polar Bear

July 3, 2015

By John Corrado

★★★★ (out of 4)

Infinitely Polar Bear PosterAmong the best films from last year’s festival circuit was Infinitely Polar Bear, an excellent independent dramedy that did the rounds of Sundance and TIFF, but is only being released now.  This is one of the most honest and bighearted portraits of an unique family that I have ever seen, and it deserves to find a bigger audience.

After their mother Maggie (Zoe Saldana) goes to business school in New York to try and get a better job, sisters Amelia (Imogene Wolodarsky) and Faith (Ashley Aufderheide) are left to live with their father Cameron (Mark Ruffalo), who is struggling to keep his manic depression in check.  The two girls love their father deeply, but they are also sometimes embarrassed by his erratic behaviour, and because of his mental illness are left living in poverty.

Based on writer and first time director Maya Forbes own childhood experiences growing up in the 1970s, Infinitely Polar Bear is a wonderfully written film, held together by a perfectly balanced tone that seamlessly manages to be both hilarious and heartbreaking, often at the same time.  The two girls openly swear to their father, and frequently quarrel over his hoarding compulsions and other odd quirks, and in the wrong hands, this could have felt manipulative or even exploitative.  But we never get the sense that they don’t all love each other in their own unique ways.  Because this is her family, she clearly understands the dynamic between them, walking a careful thematic tightrope and never taking a wrong step throughout.

Mark Ruffalo shines in one of his best performances yet, bringing genuine warmth and humour to this complicated but improbably loveable man.  The actor not only portrays Cameron with a larger than life personality, but also great sensitivity, perfectly capturing both his overconfidence and insecurities.  This is an authentically written portrait of mental illness, and Mark Ruffalo brilliantly captures the small nuances of bipolar disorder, manically spending the night stitching together a dance costume in one scene, and then withdrawn and depressed the next.  Like the film around him, it’s a tremendously balanced piece of work, keeping us entertained between the emotional gut punches.

Zoe Saldana delivers some of her best work, a quietly excellent turn that provides a welcome change of pace from her typecast roles in science fiction blockbusters.  Imogene Wolodarsky, Maya Forbes real life daughter, also delivers an impressively naturalistic performance, and newcomer Ashley Aufderheide shows uncommon depth for a child actor.  The almost grainy cinematography has a very warm and lived in quality to it, which is very representative of the era in which the story takes place, and the editing allows the film to play both narratively and almost like a collection of home movies.

This is one of those rare and special films that manages to be genuinely funny one moment, and heartbreakingly honest the next, more importantly earning every single one of these emotions.  Tightly constructed at just under ninety minutes, Infinitely Polar Bear is an absolute delight, an entertaining and very touching little film that reaches a bittersweet final scene.  I enjoyed every moment, and would have happily spent even more time in the company of this family.

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