Starring Mark Wahlberg, Rose Byrne, Isabela Moner, Octavia Spencer, Margo Martindale, Tig Notaro, Joan Cusack
Writer/director Sean Anders has turned a corner from, junk food comedies like Daddy’s Home and That’s My Boy, to junk food comedy with a purpose. Instant Family draws from Anders own personal experiences with adoption and foster parenting. He said his intent was to show a different side of the story than the usual serious dramas, such as the Oscar-nominated Lion. “I wept at that film, but I wanted to show something different here,” Anders said. Instant Family has a lot more to offer than Anders previous films, but the common thread in all of them is the family unit. Still, this film never sacrifices entertainment for the message and has both carefully calculated laughs and heartfelt moments. Wahlberg and Byrne are not showcasing anything we haven’t seen from their previous performances. Spencer and Martindale pop in and out to pick up the pace and land more authentic laughs.
Pete (Wahlberg) and Elle (Byrne) have a very successful house flipping business in rural California. They are childless and happily married until her competitive sister brings up the idea of starting a family. A joke from Peter about adoption plants the seed that lands the couple in an 8-week foster parenting course. Not an easy decision, but finally they embrace the idea after meeting a very pushy 15-year-old Lizzy (Moner) who comes with a brother and sister. Instantly the Wagner’s go from two to five. The younger children adjust more easily, in desperate need of love, nurture, and stability. Lizzy is rebellious and refuses to embrace the new possibilities. Just when Pete and Elle feel like they have control on this new normal, the children’s mother reappears to further complicate the situation.
While many of the more outrageous moments feel studio fed and less authentic, Instant Family does have meaning, which is more than can be said for Anders previous work.
Being a foster parent, Anders has inserted some relatable moments in the film. The scene where the youngest daughter has a meltdown over a $4 Barbie at Big Lots is both humorous and trying. The heartwarming scenes are here also, like the first time Peter and Elle here the words “mommy” or “daddy”. While Spencer (Hidden Figures) and Martindale (August Osage County) provide most of the laugh out loud moments, Martindale makes exquisite use of her short screen time. While many of the more outrageous moments feel studio fed and less authentic, Instant Family does have meaning, which is more than can be said for Anders previous work. His discussions with an audience in Dallas were very down to earth and relatable.
Instant Family isn’t groundbreaking material. It probably won’t be mentioned on any top lists or receive any accolades. Anders talked about getting the green light for his project after Wahlberg agreed to star in the film. Wahlberg might lead the film to a bigger box office intake, but it’s Wahlberg’s paint-by-numbers acting approach that does this film a disservice. Rose Byrne is fine, but she hasn’t challenged herself in a while, and I couldn’t help but wonder how much better this film might have been if you swapped Jack Black and Cate Blanchett from their family friendly House with the Clock in its Walls film and put Wahlberg and Byrne in that movie, challenging all four actors to produce something requiring a little more effort. Instant Family seems a bit easy, not to mention predictable and while Anders balance of purpose and entertainment is commendable, the audience isn’t left with much to chew on after the closing credits.
The filmmakers good intentions, along with Spencer and Martindale spicing things up, make Instant Family slightly better than you expect.