Infinitely Polar Bear

Mark Ruffalo helps turn this coming-of-age tale into a small miracle

Mark Ruffalo in 'Infinitely Polar Bear.' Credit: Seacia Pavao/Sony

It should be clear that Mark Ruffalo (Foxcatcher, The Kids Are All Right, The Normal Heart) is one of the best actors on the planet. He proves it again in Infinitely Polar Bear, a hilarious and heartbreaking tale of a family on the ropes.

Set in Boston in the late 1970s, the film casts Ruffalo as Cam Stuart, a manic depressive — "polar bear" is how Cam refers to being bipolar — whose antics and chronic unemployment have alienated his blueblood relatives. It's no picnic for those closest to Cam — wife Maggie (Zoë Saldana) and their mixed-race daughters, Amelia (Imogene Wolodarsky) and Faith (Ashley Aufderheide).

A crisis approaches when Maggie decides to pursue an MBA at Columbia. She wants the best education for her kids and can't get financial help from Cam's rich relations, whose contributions barely reach the subsistence level. She'll have to be in New York for 18 months, coming home on weekends only, leaving Cam in charge of the girls.

Having trouble buying this? Talk to Maya Forbes, making a fine feature debut as a writer and director by telling her own story. Wolodarsky, Forbes' daughter, is playing her mother as a child and doing it superbly.

The movie is a small miracle, lifted by Ruffalo and these two remarkable young actresses. Refusing to soften the edges when Cam is off his meds, Ruffalo is a powerhouse. He and Forbes craft an indelibly intimate portrait of what makes a family when the roles of parent and child are reversed.