This is probably the best performance yet by Mark Ruffalo, but it
will likely go unnoticed, because it's so small-scope.
“Infinitely Polar Bear” is the story of one little family:
Dad, Cameron (Ruffalo), Mom, Maggie (Zoe Saldana), and their
daughters, Amelia (Imogne Wolodarsky), and Faith (Ashley Aufderheide).
They live in Boston, where Cameron's family is old money, but
somehow he's been the outcast underperformer of the family, so they're
poor. Cameron is bi-polar,
and he's also got a hair-trigger temper, which will set him off quickly
toward his less appealing side. But
even in his manic mode, he's sometimes hard to take:
he'll run around outside in his red underwear, wanting everyone
to romp through the woods with him and enjoy nature, forget school.
Actually, that's what he did:
dropped out from both Exeter and Harvard.
So he's not stupid; he's
just imprisoned by his own lamentable condition, which threatens to veer
out of control at any moment.
One time Maggie gets so concerned for their daughters' safety
that she has Cameron sent away to a psychiatric facility, but of course
what they mostly do is give him lithium, so that when the girls come to
see him, he's uncharacteristically unresponsive.
Cameron hasn't been able to hold on to a job for a long time, and
Maggie's menial job as a library assistant is going nowhere, so she
decides she just has to try to further her career, even if it's
inconvenient to everyone else, if for no other reason than to be able to
afford good (private) schools for her daughters.
So once Cameron is released from the institution, Maggie decides
that she's going to get her M.B.A.----at Columbia University in New York
City. Yes, it's far enough
away from Boston that she only comes home on the weekends.
And even then, she hasn't fully re-integrated herself into her
marriage with Cameron. But
she is happy for him to keep the kids while she's off studying.
Cameron's fatherhood skills are unique, to say the least.
He makes great crepes. He
can fix almost anything. He
loves to take his daughters on spontaneous nature tours.
But the apartment is always a mess;
filled with unifinished projects.
He rants at them for just being kids, and they soon realize
they're going to have to take care of themselves a lot.
He doesn't help them with their homework.
He's always repairing their (very) old car.
Sometimes he says he just can't stand it, he has to go be with
adults, so he slams the door and drinks shots at the neighborhood bar
and comes home drunk. But
even he realizes that's a self-indulgence he can't afford, if he's going
to keep the kids. He loves
them, but sometimes he doesn't know what to do with them.
And they love him, but sometimes they're exasperated by his
inconsistency, especially when Mom isn't around to smooth out his rough
Mark Ruffalo is just outstanding in his hyperkinetic portrayal,
but unfortunately his vitriolic manic-depression is not very charming..
Part of us wants to root for him, and another part wants to call
in Child Protective Services. Maggie's
character is similarly ambivalent, and her bailing out really hasn't
solved anything, either. Nor
does that make her an idyllic Mom. So
that leaves us rooting for the kids, who seem to be pretty resilient,
but they're having to grow up faster than they should, and that's not
their fault. In a way, the
family staying together in any sense is a heartwarming outcome, but with
all the accompanying trauma, the victory is pyrrhic, at best.