Infinitely Polar Bear – Maya Forbes (2015)

Yes, indeed, another indie film that nobody asked for, on a topic that has some liberal cache, amped further up by the casting choices. This is practically a genre in and of itself anymore: the “social issue” film that is also a family portrait, which takes on a “tough” topic in an insistently upbeat manner, and generally resolves itself in anodyne fashion. We could mistake it for fluff, mere Hollywood fake sunshine, but the salty language of the kids and their “unconventional” interactions with Dad round it out, giving it supposed grit and indie cred. I didn’t expect much more; I arrived hoping simply for some cute kids (which were mostly delivered) and for an interesting performance from Mark Ruffalo (which was less delivered on). The chemistry between Mom and Dad (Zoe Saldana and Mr. Ruffalo) is pretty much non-existent, which, while helping the majority of the film, as Mom and Dad are separating and growing distant, does little to shore up any backstory of how in the hell Mom and Dad got together in the first place. Oh yes, it was the ’60s, and Mom mistook Dad’s bipolar behavior for a lighter unconventionality, which was apparently in bloom during the hippy heyday along with peace, love, and dope. It certainly helps to explain why the film is set in the 1970s. Otherwise, what could the reason be? An aversion to cell phones as plot devices? A desire to watch all the characters chain smoke unabashedly? The inauthentic double gift of a time that was both let it all hang out weird as well as stodgy and conservative, as needed by the dictates of the script? (The narrative makes a lame stab at a framing device, in which we understand that the film is a recollection of the now grown children, but it never follows through on this). As a portrait of someone afflicted with bipolar disorder, it is definitely the Cole Porter version – Auntie Mame seems more unbalanced. As a family portrait, it is not very compelling, as we don’t have enough backstory or conflict to care, and the kids, while cute, are not terribly charming or sympathetic (ditto for Ruffalo. Saldana doesn’t even have a chance). It is also quite static. We start the film with Dad easing back into life after a stint in the hospital, with Mom carrying the burden of working. Dad, even without bipolar, comes from blue blood old money now gone to seed, so is not terribly equipped to work even in ideal circumstances. Mom, having an onerous, no-pay library job, decides to apply to Columbia, get her MBA, and then come back and support the family. Dad and kids, living in Boston, stay put, and the main meat of the film (ham hock though it be) is the portrayal of Dad going from a doddering father with less responsibility to a doddering father with more responsibility. Mom is gone for over a year, visiting on some weekends, and holds out a romantic reunion with Dad as a carrot to keep him motivated. Unsurprisingly, when the MBA arrives, Mom is not interested in Dad anymore, but Dad seems okay with the fact, or at least accepting, after he and Mom hug it out, crying together over a grill in the park. Mom will take a job in New York, Dad will keep the kids in Boston, and the future will grind on as it was, although with more money. The kids, resistant to Dad’s unconventional ways early on, still resist, and still scream obscenities, but now at least acknowledge that they love him while flipping him the bird. Or something like that. (I am making the film sound more dramatic than it is). Yes, this is looking to be my shortest review ever. Nothing happens in this film that you wouldn’t expect, and nothing happens that would be out of place on your average weekly TV drama. The sets look like leftovers from Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl. Ruffalo wears Lacoste polos all film long and smokes like an affected movie Nazi. His father is played, briefly, by Keir Dullea, the whitest man alive. If any of this sounds exciting, or moving, please, do go and light your world on fire with this film’s torpid placidity. If you like cute kids swearing, you might be mildly satisfied. Plenty of crappy, wanna-be upbeat pseudo Polyphonic Spree music can be heard. Also, the title makes close to no sense.

Two stars out of five

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *