Infinitely Polar Bear

Movie review by
S. Jhoanna Robledo, Common Sense Media
Infinitely Polar Bear Movie Poster Image
Heartfelt drama about family affected by mental illness.
  • R
  • 2015
  • 90 minutes

Parents say

age 12+
Based on 1 review

Kids say

age 14+
Based on 1 review

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Families come in all sort of configurations. Love can't easily be nailed down to a specific protocol, but it endures when kindness and compassion reign.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Despite his illness and, at times, self-medication (with alcohol), Cam is kind, devoted, and patient and clearly wants to do right by his kids. Maggie still cares about him a lot and supports his efforts at getting better even if he's been an erratic husband. Their situation -- Cam, who can't hold a job because of his illness, takes care of the kids while Maggie works and, later, gets her MBA so she can better support them -- is unusual for the '70s.

Violence

A man with bipolar disorder throws a bowl in a fit of rage and yanks a part out of a car's engine to stop it from running while his family is sitting in the vehicle. He also sometimes raises his voice and has given kids the finger; they, in turn, sometimes scream and yell back at him.

Sex

Couples kiss and cuddle. References to past sex escapades. Man shown in underwear.

Language

Kids and adults swear; words include "damn," "s--t," and "a--hole." An adult says "f--k," but not frequently.

Consumerism

Some brand names spotted/mentioned, including Bentley and Lincoln, but mostly to denote the kind of "old money" cars that Cam's grandmother has.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Cam sometimes relies on alcohol to quiet his demons; he's shown downing shots at a bar (he gets drunk) and drinking beer alone at home. He also smokes a lot (not inaccurate for the time period).

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Infinitely Polar Bear is an intimate, '70s-set look at a family with a dad who has bipolar disorder. He (and consequently, his two daughters and his estranged wife) goes through wild ups and downs, especially when he's not taking his lithium -- pretty serious subject matter that's too intense for younger kids. There's also a fair bit of swearing, by both kids and adults, including "s--t," "a--hole," and a few uses of "f--k." Characters kiss and make allusions to sex, and there's some behavior that borders on violent (yelling and throwing things) but is attributable to a decline in a character's mental health.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent Written bylisbeth January 11, 2016

Brilliant performances, a film about love in difficult circumstances.

This film is so well-written, beautifully acted and directed. I watched it first, then allowed my kids to see it, as I thought the R rating (in Australia at lea... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written byTeenageCritic100 July 31, 2015

Mild R movie fine for young mature teens

This movie is amazing! I loved every minute of it. It's very well done and laugh out loud funny, especially with the young girls. The movie centers around... Continue reading

What's the story?

INFINITELY POLAR BEAR -- inspired by events from writer/director Maya Forbes' own life -- centers on a 1970s family that's besieged by mental illness and poverty but nourished by lots of love. Cameron (Mark Ruffalo) is a TV videographer from an old-school Boston family who loses several jobs after suffering many breakdowns. His wife, Maggie (Zoe Saldana), tries to work a no-direction job to pay their bills, until it becomes clear that she needs to do more, or else they'll be stuck forever. Accepted by Columbia University's business school, Maggie hatches a plan to accept the admission, leaving Cam to care for their two daughters (Ashley Aufderheide and Imogene Wolodarsky) in their rundown Boston apartment while she lives in New York City, coming back on weekends -- a plan both she and Cam approach with trepidation, resignation, and hope.

Is it any good?

It’s the kids who give the movie its heart: There's not a false note in their performances, and their simultaneous affection for and frustration with their father seems genuine and moving. Ruffalo steeps Cameron in deep compassion, allowing his struggle with parenthood to be at the film's center, rather than concentrating on just the bipolar disorder that overwhelms the character. In doing so, the actor helps to tell the story of any father or mother who shoulders the burdens of single parenthood -- Cam is for all intents and purposes a single dad for much of the time chronicled in the film -- and does so without judgment.

Ditto Saldana when it comes to portraying Maggie’s attempts to forge a new path at first dictated by necessity -- her family needs her to earn money to survive -- but later driven by her own search for an identity beyond wife and mother. Infinitely Polar Bear isn't without issues: The storytelling is disjointed at times, and Cam’s family background is more a sketch than a detailed rendering. But on the strength of its acting, it’s worth a watch. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the impact of mental illness on an entire family. Do you think Infinitely Polar Bear portrays mental illness accurately? How is it often depicted in movies and TV shows?

  • What role does drinking play in the film? Is it glamorized? Are there realistic consequences when characters drink?

  • Talk about Cam and Maggie's division of responsibility: In the 1970s, men were often the designated breadwinners, while women more frequently stayed home with the kids. But because Cam can't hold a job or attend college, Maggie has to, which means leaving her kids. How did the film handle this topic? How did the setup shape their kids? How might a similar family be portrayed in today's world?

Movie details

For kids who love dramas

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