A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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.
- Parents say
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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?
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