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Maya Forbes has been a screenwriter for years, with co-credits for MONSTERS AND ALIENS and DIARY OF A WIMPY KID to her credit. She was also a writer and story editor on HBO’s groundbreaking THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW. For her directorial debut, though, she chose a script she wrote alone about her experiences growing up with a bi-polar father. The result is INFINITELY POLAR BEAR, the phrase used by her younger sister before she could correctly pronounce the disorder.
Why something so personal was her choice to go behind the camera for the first time was the first thing I asked Forbes when I spoke to her by phone on June 16, 2015. We went on to talk about Mark Ruffalo’s nuanced performance as her father, a performance that captured both the man’s enormous charm, and the pain his disorder caused himself and those who loved him best. What struck me most, and it’s something I asked Forbes to talk about, was how funny her father was, and how she included that in the film, as well as a poignant conversation between mother and daughter, as Forbes’ African-American mother explains to her daughter that the girl is black, despite a white father and light skin.
Forbes, as funny and charming as her father must have been, was also philosophical about the subjective nature of diagnosing mental disorders, and what she has claimed as an advantage in having grown up with a father afflicted with bipolar disorder.
INFINITELY POLAR BEAR is her semi-autobiographical film about mental illness, family love, and reaching for the stars. Ruffalo stars as Cameron Stuart, the near-penniless scion of a wealthy Boston family who struggles with bipolar disorder, and the disintegration of his family as a result of it. When his ex-wife decides to pursue a graduate degree in New York in order to make a better life for their two daughters, she decides to leave the girls behind for in Boston so as not to disrupt their lives more than necessary, and Cameron steps up to prove that he can be a responsible parent by moving in with them and being the father they all want him to be. It’s a rocky road, but one that is full of insight about what it means to be a family, and to put the needs of others before one’s own. Funny, heartbreaking, and ultimately emotionally uplifting while never sugar-coating the toll Cameron’s condition has on himself and others, it humanizes rather than judges, and embraces rather than castigates. The film co-stars Zoe Saldana, Ashley Aufderheide, Beth Dixon, Kier Dullea, Muriel Gould, and Forbes’ own daughter, Imogene Wolodarsky as Amelia, the elder daughter based on Forbes’ herself. Forbes directed from her own script, and her previous work includes the co-writing MONSTERS AND ALIENS, DIARY OF A WIMPY KID, and being part of the writing team for HBO’s THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW. This is her directorial debut.
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