A review of a movie based on writer/director Maya Forbes’ experiences growing up in a family touched by mental illness. Rating: 3 stars out of 4.

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“Infinitely Polar Bear,” based on writer/director Maya Forbes’ experiences growing up with a manic-depressive father, could have gone wrong in so many ways. And it almost did: The title (based on a child’s misunderstanding of the term “bipolar”) is a little too cute; the music at times feels a little too goofy; the characters outside the film’s central family of four, particularly the uptight grandparents, are familiar types.

And yet, Forbes’ sweetness of tone and wise casting makes “Infinitely Polar Bear” irresistible. As Cam and Maggie, parents to preteen daughters Amelia (Imogene Wolodarsky) and Faith (Ashley Aufderheide, a small master of eye-rolling) in 1978 Boston, Mark Ruffalo and Zoe Saldana make us believe that they love each other, and that sometimes love isn’t enough. Cam struggles to control his emotions and impulses, not always successfully; in the film’s early scenes, he’s admitted to a mental-health facility. When Maggie, desperate to earn enough money to support the family, decides to go to graduate school in New York, Cam — freshly released from treatment — must stay behind and take responsibility for the girls.

It’s a daunting prospect, and you watch the film worried for the girls and for Cam, who Ruffalo (an effortless actor) manages to depict as both likable and a bit scary. (And funny: At one point, needing a cigarette, he asks a group of grade-schoolers, “Any of you kids have a light?” and makes the query charming.) But the daughters, wonderfully played by Wolodarsky and Aufderheide, are tough little cookies, and keep their father mostly in line through a mixture of yelling, exasperation and youthful wisdom.

Movie Review ★★★  

‘Infinitely Polar Bear,’ with Mark Ruffalo, Zoe Saldana, Imogene Wolodarsky, Ashley Aufderheide. Written and directed by Maya Forbes. 88 minutes. Rated R for language. Sundance (21+), Meridian.

There’s a sense here of hard edges being rounded off, of a painful story being softened — and of a daughter, years later, looking at her father with love and forgiveness. It’s that love that makes “Infinitely Polar Bear” ultimately moving; it’s not a fairy tale, but the happy ending comes all the same.