Sundance 2014: “Infinitely Polar Bear” – Review by MovieManMenzel

Is it possible to make a feel good film about depression?

Cam Stuart () is a devoted husband with a wife and two daughters that he loves dearly.  One day, Cam has a mental breakdown, which causes him to be committed into a mental hospital. This unfortunate turn of events causes a huge financial burden on Cam’s wife, Maggie () and his two daughters, Amelia () and Faith (). With no other option, Maggie must leave her home in the country and move to a rent controlled apartment in Cambridge, Massachusetts. While trying to adjust to this new lifestyle, Maggie quickly learns that there are no job opportunities in Cambridge. Struggling to give her daughters the life they deserve, Maggie applies to various colleges to ensure she will get a better job. After applying to multiple schools, Maggie gets accepted to Columbia University and is now faced with the most difficult decision of her life; to pursue a degree, which will ensure a better life for her daughters, but leave them behind with Cam as their caregiver for the next 18 months. 

Infinitely Polar Bear is a feel good film about a manic depressive father and his motivation to keep his family together. The film is based on the true life story of writer/director,  who portrays depression in a realistic light. Forbes writes and directs a story that is well written, paced, and crafted together in a way that makes all the characters likable and believable even with their flaws. It is very unique to see a film that comes off as sympathetic to all the characters, yet manages to showcase how deeply something like having a manic depressive parent can impact your life.

I can see many people labeling Bear as this year’s Silver Lining Playbook, but I think this film is far more touching and honest than that film was. Don’t get me wrong, Playbook was a solid film with great performances by Lawrence and Cooper, but they just don’t compare to how deep Ruffalo gets into this role.  Mark Ruffalo portrays a man with manic depression so accurately that you would think that he suffered from it at some point in his life. He even nails all the little ticks and facial mannerisms that people with this type of depression have.  Cam is an extremely complex character with a lot of issues, however, is lovable and carries the story despite all the difficult situations that he faces daily.

As for Zoe Saldana’s character Maggie,  I have to say that I loved the complex nature of her character as well. The relationship that we as audience members have with Maggie is rather complicated because just like her we are faced with making a decision on whether or not, she is the good guy or the bad guy.  Saldana makes it clear that Maggie is simply just trying to do what is best for her daughters, but at the same time,  she has abandoned them. Oddly enough as the film progresses, you begin to understand this character and see what exactly she is doing and why. It is clear that Maggie is faced with a really tough choice and even though she deeply loves and cares about Cam and her daughters, she wants the best for them and her decision is the only way that  she can do it.

This brings me to Amelia and Faith, who are the driving force of the story. As children, Amelia and Faith are forced to deal with the life they have been given. The girls are definitely the real victims of their mother and father’s relationship, however, Wolodarsky and Aufderheide are realistic because they fight and argue with their parents. Forbes makes sure that Amelia and Faith aren’t these little angels, but rather like real children who fight against their parents decisions. By painting this realistic portrait, there are moments within the film that you as an audience member just feel so much compassion towards these kids. At one point, Amelia yells “I don’t want our friends to come over and see this shit hole that we live in” to her father Cam.  It is moments like this where you sympathize with the characters on multiple levels. We feel bad for the children simply because they have to live and feel like that, yet you can’t help but feel bad for the parents as well because obviously Cam and Maggie are trying their hardest to do the best they can. There are many moments like this throughout the film, which I believe serve as some of the film’s strongest moments.

Bear is the first film that Maya Forbes has directed, however, she has several written screenplays including The RockerMonsters vs Aliens, and Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days.  Forbes’ screenplay for Bear far exceeds anything she has ever written before and seems to have finally crafted something that is the perfect mix of comedy and drama.  Forbes captures the pain and struggle that she faced growing up and embeds it within the context of this film. Bear is so perfectly paced and edited that the short but sweet 90 minute run-time feels perfect. The film never drags on and ends on a note that leaves the audience feeling satisfied while not being overly sappy.

All in all, I went into Infinitely Polar Bear not expecting much from it and came out loving it.  It is a film that shows how unfair life can be, but shows it in a way that leaves you feeling happy and hopeful. To put it simply, it is a a glass half full type of film. It really shows that people have a choices in life; they can sit there and complain about how shitty their life is or they can get up and make the best of it. I loved this film and it made me feel hopeful that even the most flawed people can still look past their flaws and strive to live the best life they can.

MovieManMenzel’s final rating for Infinitely Polar Bear is a 9 out of 10.

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