Review by James McDonald
When I first saw the trailer for “Instant Family,” I thought it could very well be another “Daddy’s Home,” a film with occasional chuckles but not much else. Boy was I wrong, and happily so. The movie was written and directed by Sean Anders, the man responsible for the aforementioned “Daddy’s Home” and its sequel but what I did not know, was that this story is based on his real-life experience of adopting three children with his wife. Before the movie begins, Mr. Anders appears in a short PSA advocating adoption and tells us a little about his experiences, both the good and the bad and as the old Hollywood saying goes, “write what you know.” As a result, “Instant Family” delivers much humor and drama, but overall, a real sense of family. The scenarios that play out never feel forced, or Hollywoodized, granted, there has to be some schmaltz along the way but for the most part, every scene herein can be related to because we have either experienced it ourselves or know someone who has.
Pete (Mark Wahlberg) and Ellie (Rose Byrne) are happily married and own a construction company which they also use to buy dilapidated houses and then flip them for profit. Having children is not in their future, or so they think. When Ellie realizes that the foster-care system is filled with kids looking for foster homes with the intent of eventually being adopted, it awakens her maternal instincts and she mentions it to Pete. Initially confused because they both agreed that kids were not for them, Pete talks her out of the idea but when they get home and she goes to bed, leaving him in the living room by himself, he picks up her laptop and begins scrolling through the foster website. Immediately he is filled with emotions. As he views the large number of children, at various ages and from contrasting backgrounds, all wishing and hoping that they will be adopted, he tells Ellie he is on board and they sign up for foster-care classes.
After going through their training, along with other would-be foster parents, they are invited to a fair day, where they can walk around and see all the children playing in their natural habitats. After expressing some interest in specific kids, nothing pans out and Pete notices that there is a large group of teenagers, away from the rest of the kids and when he inquires, he is told that typically teenagers are not fostered or adopted, simply because of their age, and when they turn 18, they are released from the system and pretty much have to fend for themselves. Pete and Ellie are taken with a young Hispanic girl named Lizzy (Isabela Moner), a 15-year-old who appears very friendly and amiable. When they mention it to their caseworkers, Karen (Octavia Spencer) and Sharon (Tig Notaro), they tell them that she is precious but that she has two younger siblings that they would have to consider fostering as well as they don’t want to break up the family. The thought of three kids is too much for them but when Karen shows them photos of Juan (Gustavo Quiroz) and Lita (Julianna Gamiz), they are both immediately entranced and after a brief talk, agree to take all three.
What follows is two hours of happiness, sadness, drama, crying, laughter, tears, and pretty much every other emotion one can muster while trying to take care of three kids. Many movies succumb to a happy ending, even when in reality it might seem too implausible but in this situation, it is warranted and fits perfectly with the narrative as it is presented to us. In the beginning, the fact that Pete and Ellie adopt three Hispanic kids confounds them a little, worrying about what others might think but then they get to know them and regret even feeling that way. Ellie and Pete’s families don’t know what to make of the situation, feeling they have lost their minds but once they interact with the kids, like Ellie and Pete before them, naturally, they adjust too. Director Sean Anders does a tremendous job in showing us the foster-care system without shoving it down our throats, ad nausem, and the entire cast is uniformly excellent in their respective roles. Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne are the perfect couple and play wonderfully off each other and young Isabela Moner, who many might recognize from this year’s stellar “Sicario: Day of the Soldado,” proves that she is not a one-hit wonder. Keep your eyes peeled as she will continue to do stellar work.
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