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Review: 'Infinitely Polar Bear' shines with Mark Ruffalo in the starring role

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Infinitely Polar Bear

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Guest reviewer Carolyn Hodge is providing this review on "Infinitely Polar Bear" which screened at Sundance Film Festival; this review is part of an ongoing series. Hodge is the immediate past president of the Dallas Screenwriters Association and a long-time volunteer at the Sundance Film Festival. She is also an award-winning filmmaker.

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"Infinitely Polar Bear" is the directorial debut of Emmy-award winning writer, Maya Forbes. Produced by Wally Wolodarsky, Benji Kohn, Bingo Gubelmann, Sam Bisbee and Galt Niederhoffer. Executive produced by J.J. Abrams, Bryan Burk, Austin Stark, Ruth Mutch, Jackie Kelman Bisbee.

Every year as I plan my trip to the Sundance Film Festival, I review the film guide to find those films I really want to see.

High on that list was “Infinitely Polar Bear,” partially because one of the Executive Producers is Dallas’ own Ruth Mutch of Soaring Flight Productions. With more than 15 films under her producing belt, she knew a winner was afloat with this well-written and superbly directed study into the lives of a family dealing with mental illness.

Another reason to see this film is it stars, Oscar nominee Mark Ruffalo (“The Kids Are Alright”) and Zoe Saldana (“Star Trek”). Ruffalo shines, I mean shines, as a manic-depressive mess of a father (Cameron Stuart) who takes on the role of single fatherhood in raising the couple’s two daughters while their mother pursues her MBA. Saldana is absolutely remarkable as the wife (Maggie Stuart) who loves the impossible Cameron, but knows she has to move on.

The year is 1978, and the Stuart family is struggling to make ends meet. The bi-polar Cameron suffers a nervous breakdown, and the full brunt of supporting the family falls on Maggie’s shoulders. Though Cameron hails from an upper crust blue blood family and he and Maggie are well educated, they simply can’t make ends meet.

As Maggie leaves for her studies in New York, daughters, Faith (Ashley Aufderheide) and Amelia (Imogene Wolodarsky), stay in Boston with their father, who has moved out of the treatment center and into a halfway house before taking up residence in the family’s apartment. With no support from either of the couple’s extended families, the unconventional and often energetic Cameron begins an 18-month wild ride of solo parenting his daughters.

He embraces the job, including everything from the daily meals and bedtime preparation to sewing a calypso costume for his youngest. But, as might be expected, it is not a smooth ride, and frustrations abound from the daughters’ embarrassment at their father’s antics to his occasional misstep into irresponsibility.

The gift that comes from these 18-months is the discovery that Cameron needs the girls to maintain any sense of normalcy, and the girls need and want their father in their lives. The one constant that sets up this gift is the fierce love between father and progeny, as they learn how to navigate the often turbulent waters of parent/child stalemates and the flawed situation of living with a father who has a limited grasp of adult responsibility.

Both Aufderheide and Wolodarsky (who is the real life daughter of wife and husband team of Forbes and Wolodarsky) are exceptional in bringing to life the roller coaster ride of the complex world of pre-teens, their need for structure (yet requiring some independence) and the strength in taking on the exhausting role of sometimes parenting the father in this bittersweet comedy.

The 90-minute film keeps the audience engaged at every step, and though we may not always agree with the behaviors exhibited by the characters as they travel this journey, their actions are completely understandable. I truly believe this is Ruffalo's best work, and Saldana, Aufderheide, and Wolodarsky are phenomenal.

Inspired by writer/director Maya Forbes’s childhood, “Infinitely Polar Bear lovingly and honestly portrays the pain and frustration of being raised by a father incapable of managing adult responsibilities and explores the gifts inherent in not being sheltered from that reality,” says Caroline Libresco, senior programmer, Sundance Film Festival.

For me, a true test of the power of a movie is whether or not I would buy it. Infinitely Polar Bear definitely has a place in my video library.

The film is currently being represented by ICM handling domestic rights and Solution Entertainment Group taking on international rights.

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