Aida Vucic | 26/11/2018
We are family! My adopted parents and me!
Yet another progressive film about the 21st century family, this time using the backdrop of adoptive parents, Instant Family achieves what it’s predecessors couldn’t; a perfectly balanced comedy/drama.
Instant Family tells the story of Pete (Mark Wahlberg) and Ellie (Rose Byrne), a married couple who spend their time flipping homes but seem to have fallen into a rut. Following an offhand comment from Pete, Ellie is convinced that fostering a child would be beneficial to both the child and their relationship. Finding the market for small adorable child competitive, the pair are drawn to a fast talking teen called Lizzy (Isabela Moner); but Lizzy is a package deal, and she comes with two younger siblings in Juan and Lita.
Reluctant to separate the siblings, the couple agree to foster the three kids. Nothing could prepare them for what would ensue. The pure chaos they face includes dealing with a picky food eater, overly sensitive children and an angsty teen. The film attempts to capture the spectrum of family dynamics and does so successfully, shifting through the highs and lows with precision, pulling on the heart strings at all the right moments while simultaneously having you laughing out loud. But it’s the unapologetic approach to dealing with some of the cultural and adoptive issues that lifts the film to greater heights than other films of this genre.
Unsurprising Sean Anders, director and co-writer of the film, is an adoptive parent himself, so while Instant Family is clearly a comedy, Anders injects the film with moments of reality. By drawing from his own experience, Anders manages to make Instant Family truly warming. That isn’t to say that his work is always so touching (the man did make Daddy’s Home and That’s My Boy), but here he deftly navigates the potential pitfalls to generate a truly heartwarming piece, even if it is designed to do so.
Wahlberg seems to be in his comfort zone, playing yet another “funny dad”. At times his performance comes off as slightly contrived, but he certainly brings an earnestness and levity to his character that serves the movie very well, and balances out some of the more manipulative edges. Byrne is also no novice to the bewildered mother role, but here, her and Moner are both incredibly affecting. They create an explicitly raw, mother-daughter relationship, which is a difficult feat given the nature of this often rollercoaster relationship. The film is overflowing with star studded supporting acts from Octavia Spencer, Tig Notaro, Iliza Shlesinger as well as a last minute appearance from Joan Cusack, all of whom are masterfully used.
In the end, the film’s winning conceit is in drawing out emotion; be it laughter or tears. Instant Family may at times feel contrived, and certainly uses every dirty trick in the book to get you to feel, but by the end you won’t remember any of the manipulative plot devices - you’ll just remember those cute kids, and that family that made you laugh and cry.
Just as funny as it is emotionally satisfying!