Susan Granger’s review of “Infinitely Polar Bear” (Sony Pictures Classics)
Maya Forbes’ episodic, autobiographical family comedy is based on her own confusing childhood in the late 1970s in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her father, Donald Cameron Forbes, was manic-depressive or bi-polar, once writing on a hospital admission form that he was “infinitely polar bear.”
Chain-smoking Cam Stuart (Mark Ruffalo) is impulsive, unpredictable and eccentric. He adores his wife, Maggie (Zoe Saldana), and their two precocious daughters, Faith (Ashley Aufderheide) and Amelia (Imogene Wolodarsky).
While Cam comes from wealth, he’s unable to hold a job. Both Cam and his patrician parents (Keir Dullea, Beth Dixon) are dependent on bits of money doled by his grandmother, the matriarch of an old Boston blue-blood family.
So it falls to Maggie to be the bread-winner. To that end, she gets a scholarship to earn her M.B.A. at Columbia University. For the 18 months she’s in New York, troubled Cam must fight to hold it all together to take care of the spirited, grade school-age girls in a cramped, cluttered apartment.
In the pivotal leading role, Mark Ruffalo (“Foxcatcher,” “The Hulk”) artfully combines rumpled resentment over the hard choices they’re forced to make with a mercurial abundance of humor, love – and Lithium. While Zoe Saldana is sympathetic and believable, her role seems oddly underwritten in comparison with his.
Deftly glossing over the darker aspects of mental illness, innately optimistic Maya Forbes helms her first feature film with insight and sensitivity, deftly integrating sequences from some of her late father’s Super 8 home movies.
In college, Maya Forbes wrote for The Harvard Lampoon, then moved to Los Angeles, where she spent four years as a writer/producer on HBO’s “The Larry Sanders Show.” She’s married to writer/producer Wally Wolodarsky and 12 year-old Imogene is their real-life daughter. Maya also writes songs with her younger sister, China Forbes, lead singer of the band Pink Martini.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Infinitely Polar Bear” is an engaging, enigmatic 8, an offbeat, feel-good film that tugs at your heartstrings.