Written by: Alyssa | July 25th, 2015
First-time director Maya Forbes uses her life story to craft a poignant tale of growing up with a manic depressive, father in Boston. Mark Ruffalo (“Foxcatcher”) delivers an Oscar-quality performance as Cam Stuart, the “polar bear”-a child’s way of saying bi-polar, of the film’s title. Cam is from a blue-blood lineage but is living in poverty with his wife Maggie (a wonderful Zoe Saldana) and two mixed-race young daughters, Amelia(Imogene Wolodarsky) and Faith (Ashley Aufderheide). Amelia is Ms. Forbes’ own daughter and depicts her mother as a child.
The plot of this character based story kicks into gear when Maggie decides she needs an MBA and is awarded a scholarship from Columbia University in New York City. For 18 months she will have to live away from Cam and the children, returning home by bus most weekends. Cam will have to shoulder the burden of raising the girls on his own while fighting off the delusions that are an integral part of his condition. We wonder whether Cam can keep it together well enough to support the girls as they grow and evolve into young ladies. There are moments of love and humor as they both explore the wonder and vicissitudes of life.
What makes this little film so special is the humanity of Mark Ruffalo’s amazing performance. His character works best when he has routines and responsibilities. He falls apart when he confronts his wealthy relatives and begs them for financial favors. They are tough on him but he keeps fighting back. This is a heart-felt serious statement film that is supported by an oldies soundtrack and a warmly composed set of images.
It makes you feel better about mental illness and the power of love to keep us going in a cold and tough world.