Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Watch: Spoiler-ific Local News Report On 'Batman v. Superman' That Caused WB To Lauch A Lawsuit Watch: Spoiler-ific Local News Report On 'Batman v. Superman' That Caused WB To Lauch A Lawsuit Christopher Nolan Says 'Interstellar' Is About "What It Means To Be A Dad”; Plus Check Out New Pics Christopher Nolan Says 'Interstellar' Is About "What It Means To Be A Dad”; Plus Check Out New Pics Paul Schrader, Nicolas Winding Refn & Nicolas Cage Campaign Against Their Film 'Dying Of The Light' Paul Schrader, Nicolas Winding Refn & Nicolas Cage Campaign Against Their Film 'Dying Of The Light' WTF: Horror Hit 'Annabelle' Yanked From French Theaters Due To Rioting WTF: Horror Hit 'Annabelle' Yanked From French Theaters Due To Rioting Retrospective: The Films Of Paul Thomas Anderson Retrospective: The Films Of Paul Thomas Anderson WB Reveals Full DC Slate Through 2020, Including Two 'Justice League' Pics, 'Wonder Woman,' 'Green Lantern' & More WB Reveals Full DC Slate Through 2020, Including Two 'Justice League' Pics, 'Wonder Woman,' 'Green Lantern' & More Brad Bird Explains Why He Passed On Directing 'Star Wars: Episode 7' Brad Bird Explains Why He Passed On Directing 'Star Wars: Episode 7' Shia LaBeouf Cut His Own Face, Fought The Cast & Got A Tooth Pulled Making 'Fury' Shia LaBeouf Cut His Own Face, Fought The Cast & Got A Tooth Pulled Making 'Fury' Robert Downey Jr. To Join Chris Evans In ‘Captain America 3’ Which Will Help Launch A New Phase Of Marvel Robert Downey Jr. To Join Chris Evans In ‘Captain America 3’ Which Will Help Launch A New Phase Of Marvel BFI London Film Festival Review: Susanne Bier's Long-Delayed 'Serena' Starring Jennifer Lawrence & Bradley Cooper BFI London Film Festival Review: Susanne Bier's Long-Delayed 'Serena' Starring Jennifer Lawrence & Bradley Cooper Oscar Buzz: Who's Going To Challenge For Best Actress This Year? Oscar Buzz: Who's Going To Challenge For Best Actress This Year? Robert Downey Jr. Says Superhero Films Are Becoming “Old" And Showing "Signs Of Fraying Around The Edges” Robert Downey Jr. Says Superhero Films Are Becoming “Old" And Showing "Signs Of Fraying Around The Edges” Recap: 'Boardwalk Empire' Season 5, Episode 6 ‘Devil You Know’ Recap: 'Boardwalk Empire' Season 5, Episode 6 ‘Devil You Know’ Watch: 3 Graphic, Very NSFW Clips From Lars von Trier's 'Nymphomaniac Vol II — Director's Cut' Watch: 3 Graphic, Very NSFW Clips From Lars von Trier's 'Nymphomaniac Vol II — Director's Cut' The Best Documentaries Of 2014 So Far The Best Documentaries Of 2014 So Far The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The Best Films Of 2014 So Far... The Best Films Of 2014 So Far... From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki The 10 Best & Worst Movie Sex Scenes The 10 Best & Worst Movie Sex Scenes All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More All The Songs In 'Pitch Perfect' Including La Roux, David Guetta, Azealia Banks, Nicki Minaj & More

Sundance Review: Phony And Forgettable 'Infinitely Polar Bear' Starring Mark Ruffalo & Zoe Saldana

The Playlist By James Rocchi | The Playlist January 19, 2014 at 5:56PM

With its based-on-the-director’s-life pedigree and stars Mark Ruffalo and Zoe Saldana, "Infinitely Polar Bear"—horrible title aside—sounds like many Sundance films past and present: a family struggles with mental illness, trying to keep one person whole while also keeping—or failing to keep—the family together. And after writing such good-to-indifferent big Hollywood product like "The Rocker," "Monsters vs. Aliens" and "Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days," you can hardly fault writer-director Maya Forbes for trying to create something a little more substantive and a little less glib.
10
Infinitely Polar Bear

With its based-on-the-director’s-life pedigree and stars Mark Ruffalo and Zoe Saldana, "Infinitely Polar Bear"—horrible title aside—sounds like many Sundance films past and present: a family struggles with mental illness, trying to keep one person whole while also keeping—or failing to keep—the family together. And after writing such good-to-indifferent big Hollywood product like "The Rocker," "Monsters vs. Aliens" and "Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days," you can hardly fault writer-director Maya Forbes for trying to create something a little more substantive and a little less glib. And yet, even based on her experiences, "Infinitely Polar Bear" is so phony that you can imagine the production budget being made up of three-dollar bills; it treats severe mental illness as a series of quirky, fun-sy tics; the circumstances of its characters are tortuously contrived; and every child character seems not like a real, living child but rather a 40-year-old with a sparkling wit who’s been struck by a shrink ray.

Set in 1978, the film begins with a family; dad Cam Stuart (Mark Ruffalo) is telling his daughters Amelia (Imogene Wolarski) and Faith (Ashley Aufderheide) that they don’t have to go to school. He got fired, so they can pick mushrooms and explore the forest and join him in his freedom. His wife Maggie (Zoe Saldana), unnerved by Cam’s mania, locks herself and the kids in the car while Cam bicycles around the cold fall field in a matching red speedo and headband. And while seizing on this one detail is picayune, it’s worth noting that the degree of design and effort that went into that moment is actually what ruins it. Mental illness is a lot of things, but puckishly color-coordinated is not one of them.

Infinitely Polar Bear
Maya Forbes' "Infinitely Polar Bear"

After a stay in an institution and a halfway house, with Maggie and the kids having moved to the city, Cam comes back just in time for Maggie to leave; in a last-ditch attempt to change the family’s circumstances, she’s applied for a Columbia MBA, and gotten in on a scholarship. If she pushes it, she can be done in 18 months, and she’ll come back every weekend. Cam will have to take care of the kids and himself, neither of which he’s especially qualified to do. Cam comes from a long line of well-to-do Boston blue-bloods, but the family matriarch who controls the funds won’t give Cam the money to get the kids to a better school—even though she pays his rent—in a bit of hair-splitting that seems solely to help the thin plotting stay propped up.

And this then might be the problem with "Infinitely Polar Bear" at heart; in her director’s notes, Forbes explains how all of the above—manic father, long-distance business school mother, a wealthy family’s weird ethics about work and effort—were part and parcel of her own life. In life, the truth is in itself enough; on the movie screen, however, the truth must also be plausible, and Forbes’ script simply cannot make the things she lived through alive for us in anything but the most glib, shallow and contrived way.

Infinitely Polar Bear

Performers Ruffalo and Saldana are both charismatic and easy to watch, but their performances feel both shallow and showy, underdone and overblown. Ruffalo is the manic pixie dream guy here—living and tender, brash and loud, demonstrative and friendly to a very real fault. Compared to some other honest and heartfelt performances of mental illness in even other Indie and Sundance films—Damian Lewis in "Keane," perhaps, or Peter Greene in "Clean, Shaven," both by Lodge Kerrigan—Ruffalo makes manic depression look huggable and snuggly, not the terrifying thing it actually is for its victims and those around them. Saldana gets to play dress-up (her job interview ensemble is so Faye Dunaway, it’s hilarious) and emote, but she can’t make us believe in her or her choices. And as for Wolarski (Forbes’ own daughter) and Aufderheide, well, these are very young people, so let it simply be said that the fault in their performances is not theirs, but rather the script’s.

Again, this is Forbes’ life and this is her version of her memories—but even so, you have to think there’s a little too much misty water-coloring going on here and not enough of the stark black-and-white realities of family, child raising, mental illness or all of the other concerns (race, gender politics) that Forbes touches upon lightly, if at all, before getting back to yet another scene of Ruffalo being cute until he’s scary until he’s cute again and Saldana being tormented by her tough choices. "Infinitely Polar Bear" is a classic example of a major fatal flaw in filmmaking: failing to make sure your movie actually deals with what it’s actually about. Even with being drawn from life, "Infinitely Polar Bear" feels less like a portrait and more like a cartoon. [D+]

Browse through all our coverage of the 2014 Sundance Film Festival by clicking here.


This article is related to: Infinitely Polar Bear, Reviews, Review, Mark Ruffalo, Zoe Saldana, Sundance Film Festival


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


E-Mail Updates