By: BabyRuth (Three Beers) –
Pete (Mark Wahlberg) and Ellie (Rose Byrne) are a childless, married couple who make their living as professional house flippers. They’re quite content with their upper-middle class existence (work perfectly balanced with frequent date nights) until they reexamine whether or not they want to have children. Time is ticking and they wonder if maybe the window might be closing on that possibility. Based on a one-off comment Pete makes, Ellie decides to explore the option of adoption and soon after, the two sign up for foster care classes to see if it’s something they are “special” enough to take on.
During an outing which introduces the prospective foster parents and children who need homes, they meet fifteen-year-old Lizzie (Isabela Moner), who makes an impression on the couple. Teenagers are often overlooked in favor of the younger, cuter kids and Pete and Ellie decide to open their home to her. But Lizzie is a package deal, she has two younger siblings: accident-prone Juan (Gustavo Quiroz) and adorable-but-kind-of-a-terror Lita (Julianna Gamiz), who can go from angel to Satan if you dare take away her potato chips.
Everything seems to go pretty smoothly at first, but once the “honeymoon phase” ends, Pete and Ellie begin to wonder if they are truly cut out for this life-change. They face further challenges when the children’s birth mother reenters the picture.
This is primarily a comedy, and it’s a good one. There are some very funny moments and I laughed out loud more times than I was able to count.
Wahlberg (doing a variation of his Daddy’s Home character) and Byrne are reliably great and have a believable, unforced chemistry. Rose Byrne is so versatile that it’s easy to forget what a talented comedic performer she is. (Her delivery of “This is Ann Taylor…LOFT!” had me snort-laughing. She’s so, so great.)
It’s fun to see Mark Wahlberg come full-circle from his Fear role to playing the protective dad of a teenage girl.
The kids are all quite good, especially Moner, who carries much of the dramatic weight of the film and even performs a song on the soundtrack.
The cast is rounded out by several familiar faces. Octavia Spencer and Tig Notaro play off each other well as Karen and Sharon, foster counselors who oversee the progress of the pending parents. Margo Martindale and Julie Hagerty also fit in nicely, and often hilariously, as Pete and Ellie’s respective mothers.
On a more serious note, Instant Family is a positive representation of the foster/adoption system while not sugarcoating the struggles involved. It’s a topic that isn’t covered often so it’s quite refreshing to see a wide release that tackles the subject matter. The film is based on director and writer Sean Anders’ (Daddy’s Home, We’re the Milllers) own experience of fostering and adopting three children of his own, so this is obviously a very important and personal project approached with care. Photos of real-life adoptive families are shown over the closing credits, which is a very touching way to punctuate the film’s message.
Plus, any movie that incorporates Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” gets automatic points from me.
Instant Family doesn’t shy away from the darker aspects of the foster system and addresses some pretty heavy topics (parental neglect, drugs, physical and sexual abuse). While it’s important and appreciated that these things aren’t glossed over, it does result in some tonal issues.
This film was marketed as a feel-good comedy about a new family coming together (my screening was filled with many families with children of all ages), and while it is that, it’s also a hard PG-13. The language is realistic and some situations are best suited for an over-tween crowd (there’s a whole subplot about naked selfies and “dick pics” and Lizzie’s relationship with a much-older scumbag which may raise some questions that parents of younger children may not be ready to answer).
Anders does his best to balance the silliness with the drama, and it mostly works, but at times it’s jarring and confusing. The comedy often feels out of place (there’s a bizarre out-of-nowhere cameo during the emotional climax that is unnecessary and just weird), and the attempt to keep things on the lighter side holds the film back from truly exploring the darker elements that he is obviously concerned about including. (For example, one of the children constantly cries “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” which hints at some kind of physical abuse, however, it’s never overtly addressed.)
As you may have predicted by the trailers, this is one of those dramedies in which the viewer knows exactly how everything’s gonna go at exactly each beat. It’s often fun getting there, but don’t expect many surprises. Conflicts are resolved easily, especially the whole birth mother plot which seemed very rushed and shoehorned in.
The comedy becomes predictable as well. We’re introduced to several other potential parents via the foster training and then a support group and most are one-dimensional stereotypes: the overly religious couple, the gay couple, etc. Then there’s a single mom character (Iliza Shlesinger) who is overly-fixated on adopting a young, black, athletic male which prompts one very funny Blind Side joke and dozens of other grating and tired call-backs and gags.
Instant Family is an interesting mixed bag. While predictable and uneven, it is still very funny and also effectively heart-warming (you may even shed a well-earned tear or two) with great performances all-around and extremely good intentions behind it. It’s definitely worth checking out, maybe not immediately at the theater, but if you happen to see it Prime or Netflix, give it a watch.
Instant Family (2018) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever Pete puts his foot in his mouth and uses a bad metaphor
Take a Drink: every time poor Juan is injured
Take a Drink: whenever Lita mentions potato chips
Take a Drink: every time something breaks or is set on fire
Take a Drink: for every Blind Side reference or callback
Do a Shot: for every temper tantrum
Do a Shot: for every red-haired character