Recalling her 1970s childhood, screenwriter Maya Forbes makes her directorial debut with a work of fond nostalgia about a difficult time in "Infinitely Polar Bear," which views the fallout of mental illness through the bright prism of family resilience and good humor.
Though the film is choppily told and its episodic rhythm never gathers momentum, it contains well-observed moments and astute performances by Mark Ruffalo and Zoe Saldana.
As Cam Stuart, a bipolar man with an unconventional approach to parenting and life in general, Ruffalo creates a portrait that's alive with firing and misfiring synapses, at once playful, tender, abrasive and magnetic. Saldana's understated turn as his wife, Maggie, is persuasively vulnerable beneath the take-charge resolve.
They're bohemian types whose marriage is shattered, at least temporarily, by his hospitalization for what was then called manic-depression. The rumpled scion of New England blue bloods who offer little in the way of financial support, the rehabilitated but unemployable Cam becomes chief caretaker for the couple's two girls when Maggie embarks on an MBA program to better the kids' prospects.
The memory piece is told partly from a child's perspective, with an emphasis on youthful exasperation. Though they sometimes sound like precocious mouthpieces for the author, the sisters are played sans cutesiness by Imogene Wolodarsky (the director's daughter) and Ashley Aufderheide. They're as noisy and demanding as they are loving, and their embarrassment is endless — over Dad's intrusive friendliness with neighbors and the unfinished art and fix-it projects that clutter their apartment.
Forbes pushes the positivity a bit insistently, yet one of the most appealing aspects of her film is its depiction of kids thriving in an unorthodox household. Consider this a trigger warning for helicopter parents.
"Infinitely Polar Bear."
MPAA rating: R for language.
Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes.
Playing: ArcLight Hollywood; Landmark, West L.A.