By José Teodoro
Maya Forbes’ late ’70s-set semi-autobiographical first feature reflects on a childhood spent under the parentage of Maggie (Zoe Saldana) and Cam Stuart (Mark Ruffalo), the former an African-American woman of modest origins struggling to forge a career in law, the latter a scion of old American aristocracy whose bipolar disorder has rendered him unemployable. The part of Cam might seem like an Oscar plea from Ruffalo, an infinitely lovable, castable, and talented actor, but there’s something in him that resists the necessary strangled theatrics. Ruffalo’s performance is at times very mannered, but the Thurston Howell act is perfectly in keeping with Cam’s blue-bloodlines: such goofing is part of the character’s coping strategies, not the actor’s desire to ingratiate himself. So don’t blame him if the film’s insistently sunny disposition drives you crazy. Apart from such moments as an early scene that finds Cam in red y-fronts and matching headband hurtling toward his wife and daughters on a bicycle, shouting about his balls, and tearing out engine parts from the family car so as to hold his loved ones captive—just about the only time we get a sense of this troubled patriarch’s real capacity for domestic terror—much of Infinitely Polar Bear is insistently mirthful and occasionally rather precious, the upbeat tone reinforced by Theodore Shapiro’s naggingly cheerful score and the fetching parade of corduroy and colourful knits. The film is episodic but also pleasingly fleet, with Forbes exhibiting a driving sense of rhythm amidst tumult. There are genuine pleasures to be found in the film’s playfulness, but they come at the expense of what would seem an inherent gravity. On the spectrum of films attempting to deal in any meaningful way with the effect of mental illness on families, Infinitely Polar Bear sits much closer to Silver Linings Playbook than it does to, say, Cassavetes.