Mental Health on the Big Screen
The major characters are not living toys but emotions: Joy (Amy Poehler), Anger (Lewis Black), Fear (Bill Hader), Sadness (Phyllis Smith), and Disgust (Mindy Kaling). They live in the brain of Riley, a precocious Minnesota girl who likes hockey but gets hauled to San Francisco when her dad’s work precipitates a family move.
As soon as Joy draws a tight circle around Sadness and tells her to stay in it, Inside Out lets us know it isn’t comfortable with Riley’s mom telling her they need to “keep smiling” (regardless of what they actually feel) for dad’s sake. The film is culturally subversive in daring to question the idea that our highest good comes from pursuing happiness.
Inside Out also features parents who are mostly both loving and attentive. Riley’s distress is a natural consequence of growing up, rather than precipitated by some unreasonable maternal expectation or careless paternal blunder.
Infinitely Polar Bear
Mark Ruffalo is superb as a man with bipolar disorder struggling to keep his family together. The film, set in the 1970s, is written and directed by Maya Forbes, who is basically telling the story of her own childhood in Cambridge, Massachusetts. When she was 6, her world imploded when her father, who had bipolar, had a series of manic episodes, leading to her parents’ separation.
“I wrote Infinitely Polar Bear about this difficult time,” Forbes says. “In the end, it worked. We became our own version of a family.”
Forbes says she wanted “a film that was funny, sad, authentic, and warm. I wanted a humane film about the effects of mental illness on a family. I wanted to see real, resilient children. I wanted to see a movie about love and the hard choices people have to make every day.”