Movie review: Uneven "Infinitely Polar Bear" faces pitfalls of personal story

Brad Keefe, Columbus Alive

There's a talent in telling your own story - one which, my friends will attest, I may not possess. The tangents and emotional undercurrents that come with life may not always come out in storytelling.

Such is the case with "Infinitely Polar Bear," writer-director Maya Forbes' well-intentioned but flawed fictionalized telling of events that mirror her own upbringing.

It often finds a lighter touch to some dark subjects. At times this is charming, but just as often, it feels tone-deaf.

Cameron (Mark Ruffalo) and Maggie (Zoe Saldana) met and fell in love in college. They married and had two daughters, Amelia (Imogene Wolodarsky) and Faith (Ashley Aufderheide), before Cameron's worsening bouts of bipolar disorder strained their marriage to the point of breaking.

One bout of manic behavior lands Cameron in a mental hospital, and he eventually ends up living alone in a halfway house, until Maggie's struggling finances lead her to return to school and leave the girls in the care of their eccentric father.

The setup for this unusual arrangement feels both expositional and a bit unbelievable, both of which can be a blind spot for a director who lived a similar experience.

There is an undercurrent of sweetness to "Infinitely Polar Bear" (the title is a play on a child's term for bipolar), particularly in its handling of the effect of mental illness on a family, coupled with the struggle of providing the best life for their children.

But at times, the whole thing feels like forced whimsy. An early scene showing Cameron's family cowering in fear during a violent outburst is hard to shake when he's later tasked with caring for his daughters alone.

Ruffalo is an actor I've loved since "You Can Count On Me," and he's the standout in a complicated and energetic performance - though a more experienced director may have reined him in a bit more.

Forbes also decided to cast her own daughter in a role that is, ostensibly, a younger version of herself. The personal connection with the material can be both blessing and curse in that regard.

"Polar Bear" certainly has a big heart, but the uneven tone and storytelling keep it down.

"Infinitely Polar Bear"

Opens Friday

2 stars (out of 4)