Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Steve Carell Redefined His Career By Surprising Everyone in 'Foxcatcher' Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Watch: Ellar Coltrane on the 'Brutal' Experience of Watching 'Boyhood' After Living It Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Mortem Tyldum Explains Why Alan Turing Was the Right Subject For His First English-Language Film Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Why Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ is a Great, Unexpected Awards Season Frontrunner Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 
Watch: Patricia Arquette on Stripping Away Ego to Get to the Heart of 'Boyhood' 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived 'Whiplash' Breakout Miles Teller Has Officially Arrived Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Michael Keaton Dug Deep to Deliver the Best Performance of His Career in 'Birdman' Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Mark Ruffalo Explains Why Dave Schultz Was One of the Most Complex Characters He's Ever Played Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Keira Knightley on 'The Imitation Game' and Why Awards Matter Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Katherine Waterston On the Good and Bad of Working With Paul Thomas Anderson Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Emma Stone Proved She Can Do It All in 2014 Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Jon Stewart is Off to a Strong Start with Directorial Debut 'Rosewater' Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Awards Spotlight: Don't Be Surprised When J.K. Simmons Takes Home Oscar Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Jessica Chastain Proved She's a Total Chameleon in 2014 Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Laura Poitras on 'CITIZENFOUR,' The Most Dangerous Work She's Ever Done Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Jake Gyllenhaal On Doing Very Bad Things in 'Nightcrawler' Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Channing Tatum Explains Why It Took Him Eight Years to Have the ‘Balls’ for ‘Foxcatcher’ Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Ethan Hawke Didn't Know That Richard Linklater Would Bring 'Boyhood' Home So Well Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie Jack O'Connell Explains What It’s Like to Work For Angelina Jolie 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey 'Red Army' Director Gabe Polsky Reveals the Story of Soviet Hockey How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season How Felicity Jones is Getting Noticed This Awards Season Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' Edward Norton Goes Full-Blown For Alejandro González Iñárritu in 'Birdman' How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking How Eddie Redmayne Transformed His Body and Mind to Become Stephen Hawking Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Oscar Isaac Explains How 'A Most Violent Year' Fits With His Other Roles Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh Timothy Spall Almost Went Mad to Play 'Mr. Turner' For Mike Leigh 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film 'Gone Girl' Composer Atticus Ross: How to Write a Score Without Seeing the Film How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake How to Play James Brown, By Chadwick Boseman: Study the Man, Listen to Drake Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Chris Rock on Why Making 'Top Five' Was a No-Brainer Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Steve James and Chaz Ebert Tackled 'Life Itself' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' Bennett Miller Explains Why He Had to Make 'Foxcatcher' How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Do You Roll Six Movies Into One? 'Wild Tales' Director Damian Szifron Explains How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' How Rosario Dawson Stole the Show From Chris Rock in 'Top Five' Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alan Hicks: From Drummer-Surfer to Oscar-Shortlist Filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Alejandro González Iñárritu: 'Birdman' Could Have Been 'so wrong' Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable Amir Bar-Lev Likes to Make People a Little Uncomfortable

Sundance Review: Maya Forbes Makes a Forceful and Heartfelt Debut With 'Infinitely Polar Bear'

By Emma Myers | Indiewire January 21, 2014 at 12:33PM

Plowing through the boy-meets-girl-makes-family exposition before the opening credits are through, the super-8 home movie that opens Maya Forbes' directorial debut, "Infinitely Polar Bear," sets the tone for her highly personal if slightly romanticized portrait of familial love and mental illness. As the glowing faces of a particularly handsome couple (Marc Ruffalo and Zoe Saldana) and their pair of adorable young girls (Imogen Wolodarsky and Ashley Aufderheide) flicker across the screen, the voice-over of the elder daughter informs us that the rugged paterfamilias we're looking at is a diagnosed manic-depressive. Drawing from the wellspring of her own life, Forbes' agile tone allows the film to indulge in heartbreak and humor with equal measure.
1
"Infinitely Polar Bear"
"Infinitely Polar Bear"

Plowing through the boy-meets-girl-makes-family exposition before the opening credits are through, the super-8 home movie that opens Maya Forbes' directorial debut, "Infinitely Polar Bear," sets the tone for her highly personal if slightly romanticized portrait of familial love and mental illness. As the glowing faces of a particularly handsome couple (Marc Ruffalo and Zoe Saldana) and their pair of adorable young girls (Imogen Wolodarsky and Ashley Aufderheide) flicker across the screen, the voice-over of the elder daughter informs us that the rugged paterfamilias we're looking at is a diagnosed manic-depressive. Drawing from the wellspring of her own life, Forbes' agile tone allows the film to indulge in heartbreak and humor with equal measure.

For the Stuart family, order and disorder are defined according to the erratic barometer that is Cam's mental state on any given day. It's a good day when he takes his daughters foraging for mushrooms in the forest and it's a bad day when he yells at his wife, Maggie, in front of them wearing nothing but a red speedo and welder's goggles. The latter marks the beginning of a breakdown that lands Cam in the hospital and severs his relationship with Maggie, who moves the two girls from their home in the New England countryside to a tiny flat in Cambridge where she can't seem to find well-paid work. It's Cam's family money that keeps them afloat, and although he comes from a long line of Boston blue bloods, codes and mores prevent him from accessing any more than what he needs for base-level survival.

Hitting rock bottom while her husband is holed up at a halfway house, Maggie decides to apply for her MBA, receiving a scholarship to attend Columbia University. Convinced that this is the best long-term plan for her children's future—their education in particular—she leaves the girls in the care of her recently released husband with his doctor's blessing: regular routine is apparently just what Cam needs to keep him focused and on a healthy mental track.

As handy in the kitchen as he is with a wrench, Cam seems like he'd be well-suited to homemaking but keeping up with the endless piles of dirty dishes and heaps of laundry, not to mention his girls' rambunctious energy levels, proves an overwhelming task. As a father he oscillates between feckless and resourceful: he buys a cheap car with a gaping hole in the floor, but steals two silver pans from his grandmother's house to fix it; he kicks the door in drunk one night in an attempt to teach his girls that a chain lock provides nothing more than a "false sense of security" only to install a proper padlock the next day.

The film moves in energetic waves, cresting and breaking along with Cam's manic episodes. With his crooked smile, squinting eyes, and jerking movements, Ruffalo, as always, delivers a strong performance, though his fits are for the most part more endearing than they are troubling. He's well paired here with Saldana, who moves with balletic grace, her statuesque poise frequently giving way to affecting emotion.

There's a moment in conversation between the two of them when Maggie, in an attempt to justify her decision to move to New York, comments: "when white people live in squalor it's considered ‘eccentric.'" It's an apt observation for the mixed-race family at the film's center. Their rent-controlled apartment may be a complete mess, littered with Cam's half-completed fix-it projects, but the environment seems closer to a penurious playground than a den of destitution. While the girls are ashamed of where they live, when they finally invite their neighbors over upon their father's unrelenting insistence, there is trampoline bouncing, a rousing game of roulette, and cinnamon toast served on a silver platter—sure, one of the kids eats it off Cam's giant machete, but what's the worst that could happen?

There are a fair amount of doors slammed, tears shed, and f-bombs hurled but the household dynamic eventually settles into one of touching codependence that culminates in the film's tearjerker of a final scene. Cynics may scoff at the fact that "Infinitely Polar Bear" glosses some of the filmmaker's darker memories, but they'll need an ice bucket handy if they intend to avoid its warmth altogether.   

Criticwire Grade: B+

HOW WILL IT PLAY: Receiving a standing ovation at its Sundance premiere, "Infinitely Polar Bear" is likely to become a darling on the festival circuit. Anchored by strong lead performances, the film's highly accessible combination of warmth and comedy should enable its success in a (fairly) mainstream market.

This article is related to: Sundance 2014, Sundance Film Festival, Infinitely Polar Bear, Zoe Saldana, Drama






Check out Indiewire on LockerDome on LockerDome



Awards Season Spotlight

Contender Conversations

Indiewire celebrates the best and brightest from Independent film, Hollywood, and foreign cinema.

More