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“Infinitely Polar Bear” walks a fine bipolar line by having fun with a serious subject: mental illness.

Writer-director Maya Forbes is drawing on her own unorthodox upbringing here and, as a result, she captures sincere affection and understandable disillusionment in the reactions to a manic depressive father. Yes, things can get a little too loveably wacky at times, but they veer off into darkness and embarrassment, as well. She’s going for a full spectrum.

Living that full spectrum is Cameron Stewart (Mark Ruffalo). As the movie begins, he’s leading his two daughters Amelia (Imogene Wolodarsky, Forbes’ daughter) and Faith (Ashley Aufderheide) through idyllic woods as they play hooky from school to celebrate his getting fired from his latest job. Later, though, he has a complete meltdown that terrifies his wife, Maggie (Zoe Saldana), and kids.

Cameron ends up in a mental hospital at first, then a halfway house. Meanwhile Maggie is struggling to keep the family afloat.

When Cameron is judged stable enough to have his own apartment, she makes a decision: She’s going to leave her kids with Cameron in Massachusetts while getting an MBA in New York. This will allow her to get a job that pays enough to support the family and offer Cameron the structured life of a parent.

Unfortunately, Cameron and structure do not get along. He’s a loving father, but scattered, impetuous, confused and often downright irresponsible, given to fits of temper, obsessiveness and neediness. His daughters — both girls are excellent — alternate between parenting him, resenting him and feeling (rightly) manipulated by him.

Ruffalo is generally wonderful at finding the tone and mood of a character and holding to it; here he has to bounce about, but again he latches onto a consistent energy that makes Cameron a singular life force. The result is a movie about a broken head that has real heart.

tlong@detroitnews.com

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‘Infinitely Polar Bear’

GRADE: B

Rated R for language

Running time: 90 minutes

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