Published Jul 02, 2015Mark Ruffalo is the kind of actor who doesn't typically disappear into a role, and you wouldn't want him to either. Most people first became aware of him in Kenneth Lonergan's You Can Count On Me, in which he played the floundering brother to Laura Linney that you'd want to strangle if not for his endearing hangdog charm. He's funny without seeming like he's really trying to be and easily capable of breaking your heart with those puppy dog eyes.
In Infinitely Polar Bear, Ruffalo has one of his best roles, as a bipolar father of two young girls who's learning responsibility while struggling to avoid some of his more dangerous impulses. It's heartfelt without ever becoming too saccharine, painting a fairly realistic portrait of a family all too aware of the realities of mental illness but refusing to let that define them.
After a breakdown and a subsequent stay in a mental health facility, Cam (Ruffalo) begins to adjust to life on his own. He doesn't work, but is supported by parents that pay his rent without investing all that much in him emotionally. He desperately wants to rekindle a romance with his wife, Maggie (Zoe Saldana), but she is understandably wary.
She does think it's important that Cam remains a part of his daughters' lives, though, and when an opportunity to study at Columbia comes up, Maggie agrees to leave the kids behind with him. He tries his best to prove that he's capable of being a parent, but wanders off in the middle of the night to drink at a bar and embarrasses his girls enough that they don't want to bring any of their friends over.
The roles of the two daughters are integral to the story, and the young actresses cast for the parts have a gift for appearing natural and unaffected. Faith (Ashley Aufderheide) is younger and a little more naïve about her father's shortcomings, while Amelia (Imogene Wolodarsky) is old to enough to understand that she needs to sometimes take the reins and push him in the right direction.
If the depiction of mental illness may come across as little more than a bunch of endearing idiosyncrasies and never delves too far into the darker abysses that can accompany the diagnosis, it's hardly the fault of Ruffalo. As Cam starts projects without finishing them and buys a car that's a good deal even though it lacks a floor, we're constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop, and Ruffalo keeps us hoping it never does.