Featuring: Mark Ruffalo, Zoe Saldana, Imogene Wolodarsky, Ashley Aufderheide
Writer/Director: Maya Forbes
Movie website: www.facebook.com/pages/Infinitely-Polar-Bear/149426691890182
Australian release date: Thurs, 26 March
Verdict: As entertainment the movie works OK, but it is less than substantial in its treatment of manic depression.
Hollywood doesn’t do mental illness very well generally. The vastly overrated Silver Linings Playbook, for example, concludes with the ludicrous thesis that the cure-all, even for severe conditions, is the lurve of a compatible soul (ie: one similarly afflicted) and a positive attitude.
The ridiculously titled Infinitely Polar Bear doesn’t raise the bar much higher, opting for a sanitised, audience-friendly version of manic depression – MD lite, if you like. At the beginning of the film, lead character Cam (Mark Ruffalo) suffers an acute episode of mania that teeters on the edge of comedy in its presentation. The closest the film gets to the confronting reality of this frightening and destructive illness is in a subsequent scene – the most sobering and affecting point of the film – in which his wife Maggie (Zoe Saldana) and young daughters (Imogene Wolodarsky and Ashley Aufderheide) visit him while he is drugged out and zombified during an extended period of institutionalisation.
When Cam is released, Maggie makes the decision to leave him in charge of the girls in Boston while she goes to New York to pursue an MBA, which she believes is essential to financing a decent life and education for their daughters. Cam doubts his ability to cope, but she is insistent, and his doctor gives him the all-clear. Not a bad premise dramatically, if a little less than credible.
Unfortunately, the film descends into safe and familiar Hollywood territory thereafter, with Cam relegated to zany, harmless funny man, now in the sanctity of domesticity and seemingly no longer prone to the risks and dangers of his illness. He veers off-track from time to time, but never so far as to throw into doubt that he and the girls will be fine.
Ruffalo plays his role with relish and his usual charm, while the girls come across as endearing comedic foils, rather than innocent casualties of their father’s often reckless, irresponsible and embarrassing behaviour.
It’s all entertaining enough, and some viewers at the preview screening found plenty to chuckle at. Indeed, there have been numerous bipolar comedians, and there is nothing wrong with adopting a light touch rather than wallowing in the dark side of the condition. That said, there is a lack of balance and edge here, and a niggling sense that a serious illness and the family suffering that is its inevitable fallout is being trivialised and glossed over.
As entertainment the movie works OK, but it is less than substantial in its treatment of manic depression.
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