- On a journey: Mark Ruffalo, Imogene Wolodarsky and Ashley Aufderheide
Capturing the complexity of mental illness on screen is no easy feat, particularly when one widens the lens to include the emotional, social and even economic impact that can reverberate through a family. But in Infinitely Polar Bear, writer-director Maya Forbes has a head start: Her dramedy is adapted from her own life, a 1970s Boston childhood marked by her parents’ cash-strapped bi-racial relationship and her father’s manic depression (as it was then known).
Working on business degree, Mom (Zoe Saldana) mostly lives in New York City, leaving her two lively daughters (Imogene Wolodarsky and Ashley Aufderheide) in care of dad (Mark Ruffalo). He’s made a fairly good recovery from a breakdown, but there are episodes that run from zany to dangerous. Thus, life is chaotic, money is tight and the kids are acutely aware that their lives aren’t “normal.” But everybody muddles through — the shifting responsibilities (sometimes dad looks after the kids, other times the kids look after dad) and emotions ranging from rage to giddiness. Ruffalo is good as always, and has an easy chemistry with Saldana; the two young actresses are a real find (Wolodarsky is Forbes’ daughter).
Polar Bear is a slight story about deep stuff: It’s about being a family marked by all sorts of non-normal situations, and yet still investing the energy to make it work. And Polar Bear works because it has a lot of heart, while not dismissing the inevitable anguish and frustration.