Infinitely Polar Bear was both written and directed by Maya Forbes. She seems to have a talent for speaking through children. Her track record of childhood perception is both entertaining and frustrating. Frustrating because sometimes it’s too right and sometimes it’s too simple.
There’s nostalgia to this film. Set in the late 70s, the aesthetic of the world is seen through a child’s eyes: messy, cold and confusing. But the time isn’t integral to the plot. The message translates through the ages. An underlying theme that does exist specifically in the time frame is the father raising the children while the mother goes to be the breadwinner. Even now there’s still a stigma to it, but in the 70s this was crucially different and even unfavoured in most work places.
In this case Infinitely Polar Bear seems to have garnered mostly favourable reviews throughout its festival leg of the journey and digital release through Sony Classics. It’s a film that is neither disappointing nor memorable. Manic, out of touch with social circles, messy and endearing is what Mark Ruffalo is asked to do in his performance as Cam and that’s exactly what he gives, no more no less.
Forbes’ own daughter, Imogene Wolodarsky took the role as the eldest daughter Amelia. There was skepticism that Forbes’ daughter wouldn’t be right for the role having had no acting experience. Despite critics and industry professionals alike being hesitant it seems to be this lack of experience that helped her. Rather than forcing some kind of character she was not, she simply acted as herself, a daughter.
Zoe Saldana has taken on some incredible roles. Her work as the leading lady in Avatar and more recently Gamora in Guardians of the Galaxy is proof she can take on a complex character. Much like Forbes daughter she seemed to play herself, and it was perfectly attuned to the film. The only real disappointment is that the role didn’t give her nearly as much screen time or room to explore her character. Saldana in the end is an asset who is under-used.
The film does deal with a plethora of issues, some relevant to the time and some that still stand today, with tenderness and a sense of the real. Racism, poverty, unemployment, birthrights, and a sense of knowing who you are, are all intertwined in the plot. From the girls’ struggles, to Maggie’s struggles and of course Cam’s struggles the film is ultimately endearing and enjoyable.
Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Infinitely Polar Bear is released on DVD and Blu-Ray September 23.