Infinitely Polar Bear is a movie about a man with a mental illness. It gets a few things about the condition right and one big thing wrong. Mark Ruffalo gives a strong performance as a bipolar person who is trying to manage his illness.
People with mental illness often smoke a lot. Cameron (Ruffalo) has an unfiltered Lucky in his mouth throughout most of the film. The story is set a few decades ago when smoking was generally permitted in public places.
Other family members may shun relatives with mental illness. This is especially true if the family is of an upper economic status. Cameron’s family fails to give him the support he needs—emotionally and fiscally.
Many people with mental illness decide at some point that they are well enough that they no longer need to take their medications. Cameron tries that trick.
The story begins with Cameron’s breakdown. He is institutionalized where he receives strong medicine. He is released to a halfway house and soon after gets his own apartment in Boston.
His wife Maggie (Zoe Saldana) and their young daughters (Imogene Wolodarsky and Ashley Aufderheide) live separately from him. When Maggie gets a scholarship to Columbia University in New York, he takes the girls. Sometimes he is up to the challenge and at other times he fails miserably.
The film’s story wraps up more neatly than those of many families dealing with mental illness. The message is “simply take you meds and things will be fine.” As anyone who has a family member with a mental illness will tell you, it’s just not that easy.
Writer/director Maya Forbes has handed Ruffalo a juicy opportunity to exercise his acting chops and he is up to the task. Infinitely Polar Bear has strong performances by actors playing memorable characters who are moving ahead in their lives. But their destination is for the Hallmark Channel happy ending crowd, not for those of us who can handle a more realistic and honest outcome.