“Infinitely Polar Bear”‘

Mark Ruffalo plays a “teddy bear” of a daddy even with pan-throwing-manic episodes. I doubt that any social worker would agree with this assessment,and this may be the film’s main flaw: down-playing mental illness like it is eccentricity. Using alcohol and pills and leaving eight and eleven years-olds home along even if it is only for one night is not a good thing, yet this film exudes so much love that we make exceptions.

Can a once institutionalized parent graduated to a half-way house muster enough personal control to provide for the safety of his charges? Screenwriter and director Maya Forbes thinks so because her story is based on her real life father who suffering from bi-polar disorder and was able to do just this: successfully care for Forbes and her younger sister in Boston while her mother completed her MBA in New York City. “Infinitely Polar Bear” normalizes the manic and skirts the depressive, but it wonderfully shows a family loving each other while choosing and suffering with the best course of action.

Mark Ruffalo and Zoe Saldana play Cam and Maggie Stuart,a mixed raced couple of mixed economic up-bringing. Cam was expelled from Exeter and Harvard,and has a trust fund doled out sparingly by a grandmother called Gaga. Just enough money is given to pay for the subsidized rent controlled apartment the Stuart family keeps. When an old Bentley is offered,Cam turns the car down because of the inconquency and the cost of gas. Maggie believes in work and education as a means to an end. She even lies to thwart the boundary restrictions of the best school for their girls, Amelia and Faith. She is described as having a bourgeois,Mid-western, can-do spirit. And in eighteen months,with Cam watching the girls,she will have her MBA and a chance at a better life for her babies. This is her plan, but she is anything but sure. Can she keep her promise to be home every weekend?!

The film is captioned in time frames like “summer”,”winter”, “spring” and “one year later”,after the backstory of 1978 is shown through hazy reels of home movies. No babies are shown,no early years of the relationship,but we come to understand that Cam is jobless after being fired from a designer’s job. Cam tells the girls that he does not know who did the pushing. The girls know their parents split over “something to do with making money”. What we see are scary and controlling Cam-outbursts mixed with eccentric behaviors like keeping children out of school to pick mushrooms for Mommy’s omelet. Cam is not a layabout. He is a chain-smoking Lucky Strike, crepe making Dad,who Maggie proclaims is funny,compassionate and outdoorsy knowledgeable.

Cam’s projects are hilarious. He never throws anything away and uses placards all over the house to label greasy bike chains and freshly glued pottery. The older girl Amelia is played by Imogene Wolodarsky, Forbes’ real daughter. She moans “Nobody wants what we have.” Yet, this film proves the opposite. Everyone wants a parent who will stay up all night making a sparkly and rufflely flamingo skirt,and who will teach one the lyrics of the Hitler one-ball song.

The casting is great. Ashley Aufderheide is a perfect Faith, as she models Dad and carves a flower into the dining room table. Love is always in the air even in tangled hair-combing and utensil pounding scenes. Enjoy Ruffalo’s wardrobe,especially his red undies and matching headband. The bibs and railroad hat are equally cool.Whether Ruffalo is wrestling,hunting or mating,he just emotes a “nice guy” vibe which this viewer admires.

A Bohemian take on mental-disability challenges with plenty of Gerber daisies to go arround.