I identified with the wife and mother. Partly because she was, like me, the wife of a man with bipolar disorder. But also because she was the kind of person I think of myself as being, a bright, competent woman who pulls things together to be the provider for her family. Any time I doubt my other wifely abilities, I can tell myself that, after all, I’ve done pretty well for us as the family breadwinner.
For the mother (played by Zoe Saldana) in Infinitely Polar Bear, though, providing for her family means trusting her chaotic, bipolar husband (“totally polar bear,” as his younger daughter describes him) can pull it together to care for their two daughters while she relocates from Boston to NYC to get the education she’ll need to provide a better life for her family.
As that bipolar husband, Mark Ruffalo shines, displaying an entirely believable mix of chaos, love, and hard work as a father pulled toward sanity by the need to keep it together (take the Lithium, put away the booze) for his two daughters. His enthusiasms and his battle with household clutter did remind me of my husband.
But this is a movie that focuses, not on the journey of the patient, but that of the whole family. You can see the wife, on her last reserve of patience as she gets her husband’s ecstatic 3am phone call announcing that he has completed a costume for his daughter, and realizes that he is manic again. And you can see her in warmer moments when she remembers why she loved him in the first place. And you can see his daughters’ loving but often embarrassed relationship with their father, as the film honors the way he pulls himself together to be the best father he possibly can without sugarcoating the experience of being the child who wonders, if I move away from dad, will he still take his Lithium?
On the whole, it’s an upbeat story, one in which love does triumph and dad does come through when he’s needed. And one I’d definitely recommend.