With the massive success of the Avengers franchise, it would now be easy for Mark Ruffalo to cash in on being a big blockbuster star – despite the fact that his version of the Bruce Banner/Hulk character has yet to receive his own standalone film.
Like many actors do, Ruffalo could coast mostly off this hugely successful franchise for the rest of his career. Probably make a few other, less successful, big-budget movies and sprinkle in an indie film or two every couple of years just to keep up appearances. But to assume or expect that scenario from Ruffalo is clearly to not know the actor at all.
Ruffalo–who made his name with emotionally wrought roles in indie gems like You Can Count On Me, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Kids Are All Right, and many more–has a career firmly rooted in the more small-scale, character-driven work. And despite all the success of his Hulk Smash, that same purposeful path that built his career (and played a major role in getting him the Avengers gig as the team’s most conflicted member), shows absolutely no sign of relenting. Within just a few months of the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron earlier this year, Ruffalo has also appeared in smaller scale films like Begin Again, Foxcatcher, and his latest, Infinitely Polar Bear.
In Infinitely Polar Bear, Ruffalo gives yet another terrific and multi-faceted performance as a manic-depressive with bi-polar disorder who is struggling to maintain control in his life as a husband and father. He both magnificently fails and succeeds in these all-important life roles. With a wonderful hint of repressed high society in his voice and mannerisms, Ruffalo’s character is his wealthy and noble family’s chain-smoking, antagonistic black sheep. He has clearly struggled to find a purpose in his wayward life, and thankfully, found it in fatherhood.
Also starring in the film is Rufflao’s Marvel Cinematic Universe compatriot, Zoe Saldana. Who, though largely absent in her role as a mother trying to put herself through business school, makes a positive impact. Playing their two young daughters–Imogene Wolodarsky and Ashley Aufderheide–are both delightful young actresses, and they have a great chemistry with Ruffalo. These girls, forced to deal with some truly emotional strife so early in their life, recognize their father’s flaws and love him both for and despite those flaws. They know they will have to deal with him and his condition for the rest of their lives. But if they all work together, they can make it work, even if that means the occasional role-reversal where they are forced to take care of him.
The film has the right mix of sweet, funny, and somber, and it is clearly based on the deeply personal experience of the filmmaker (writer/director Maya Forbes). To be honest though, a little more drama was expected and could have been beneficial. You keep waiting for things to fall apart–which, from an emotional standpoint, you don’t want to happen, but as an expectant film viewer, it would be a little bit of a dramatic letdown if it did not happen.
Despite dealing with some serious themes–such as depression, bi-polar disorder, race, mixed race families, women’s equality–the film keeps a mostly carefree approach, which in a way, kind of sells the subject matter a bit short. It touches on so many of these heady themes without really delving into them enough. In the end, the film is very enjoyable, but a deeper appreciation could have been achieved if the film had taken itself a little more serious.
Infinitely Polar Bear opens Friday, July 31 in New Orleans at the AMC Elmwood Palace 20. Check local listings for showtimes.