Infinitely Polar Bear

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.

Side Effects

Looking for a great movie for grownups? Side Effects satisfies! It has a suspenseful story, well told, and compelling characters, well portrayed.

Rooney Mara is Emily Taylor, a twenty-something in NYC who meets Dr. Jonathan Banks (Jude Law) after she drives her car into a brick wall. He’s a shrink who begins treating her for depression. Channing Tatum plays her sympathetic husband who’s just been released from prison where he served time for insider trading.

One of the medications Dr. Banks prescribes for Emily appears to help but has a significant side effect: it causes sleepwalking. When Emily commits a crime, her meds and Dr. Banks are called into question. The situation is complicated by the fact that Dr. Banks is taking money from a drug company for consulting on medications.

Side Effects steps into many timely and topical areas, including mental illness and its treatments. Also within the film’s sights is the pharmaceutical industry, as well as doctors who are in cahoots with those companies. After Emily’s crime, the blame and the repercussions remain unresolved.

Catherine Zeta-Jones plays Dr. Victoria Siebert, a Connecticut psychologist who treated Emily for depression before Dr. Banks. As the story unfolds, her involvement with the drug companies becomes a key plot point.

While there is no doubt that psychotropic drugs have helped many people with mental illnesses function normally, we know that drug companies have marketed products with dangerous (sometimes lethal) side effects. It’s easy to throw stones at large organizations that have questionable practices, but not always so easy to determine which individuals should suffer the consequences.

That’s the case in Side Effects. Who’s the good guy? Who’s the bad guy? And who’s in that gray area in the middle? See the movie and find out.

Side Effects is directed by Steven Soderbergh, whose movies are always interesting, even when they’re not as good as Side Effects. And, as with all his movies, the soundtrack is excellent. Thomas Newman is the music composer.

For Jude Law, this is his best performance in years. His stubble, worn in many scenes, gives him a more mature look. Rooney Mara was excellent in Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but that was more of a caricature. In this role, she hits it out of the park as a real woman with real problems. Bravo!