Told through the eyes of two young sisters, Amelia (Imogene Wolodarsky) and Faith Stuart (Ashley Aufderheide), Infinitely Polar Bear tells the story of just how mental illness can destroy a family. The two young girls watch in horror as their father, Cameron (Mark Ruffalo), sinks into manic depression which begins to rip their family apart.
While he works hard to try and recover their mother, Maggie (Zoe Saldana), decides to go away to Business College, meaning that suddenly Cameron has to try and straighten up his life and be a responsible father to his two young daughters.
There is a basic rule in screenwriting – ‘just because something happened to you that is important in your life doesn’t make it worthwhile watching.’ It’s a rule that you are taught pretty early on when you study filmmaking but it seems it isn’t always a lesson that every filmmaker takes heed of. Certainly it seems that screenwriter and first time director Maya Forbes (who is mainly known for writing kids movies like Monsters vs. Aliens and Diary Of A Wimpy Kid: Dog Days) didn’t pay much attention to the rule or she would have done some serious re-writing with Infinitely Polar Bear.
On paper Infinitely Polar Bear is a film that could have ended up being a serious and gripping look at mental illness, but something seriously got lost in translation here and if it weren’t for some amazing acting performances from its leads this is a film that narrowly misses out going on the straight to DVD pile.
While on the surface it appears that the film will be an in-depth look at a mentally ill struggling to hold his family together, the film never goes deep enough to explore the topic properly. Scenes in which Cameron’s manic depression have taken over aren’t anywhere near as confronting as they should while the fact that Maggie’s actions of abandoning her two daughters with their mentally ill father while she selfishly goes off to business school make her so unlikable that the film almost becomes a turn off for the audience. Forbes does a good job making the two daughters (which are based on her and her sister) the heroes of this story but there needs to be happening. There isn’t nearly enough scenes exploring the girl’s anger at their father’s illness or the feeling of abandonment that they must have felt from their mother leaving town. The film ends up becoming a flat drama with very little tension or suspense.
What saves this film are the performances of the main cast. The old rule of ‘actors can’t make a bad script look good’ almost goes out the window. While the performances of Ruffalo, Saldana and their two young chargers don’t exactly make the script look good they do save the film. Both Ashley Aufderheide and Imogene Wolodarsky put in performances well above their years as they portray the two damaged young girls to a tee. Meanwhile Mark Ruffalo repeats his performance from Thanks For Sharing and once again reminds audience members that there is much more in his acting repertoire than just playing big green angry men in comic movies as he puts in one of the more dramatic performances of the year playing a severely damaged man. Also stepping out of her Marvel shell with a gritty performance is Zoe Saldana. The actress who almost exclusively appear is science-fiction blockbusters these days removes the alien make-up and shows that underneath it all she is quality dramatic actress that can mix it with the best.
Infinitely Polar Bear is a classic example of a film that suffers because of a lack of re-writing. With a few more dramatic scenes inserted into it, this could have been a film that everybody was talking about, instead it’s bland script is only rescued by some top notch performances by it’s leading cast members. Even Ruffalo and Saldana great performances though won’t stop you realizing during the end credits that this is a film where nothing much happens.
Directors: Maya Forbes
Starring: Mark Ruffalo, Zoe Saldana, Ashley Aufderheide, Imogene Wolodarsky
Running Time: 90 minutes
Release Date: TBA