Instant Family

In Daddy’s Home, director Sean Anders tackled the struggles of step-parenting and created an over-the-top comedy about two fathers sharing the same children. It walked the line between being a crass, violent Bugs Bunny cartoon and a sweet family film. While I couldn’t show my kid Daddy’s Home, I unabashedly had a good time.

With Instant Family, Anders moves the marker closer to the family film line, while being 80% less crass, but crass nonetheless. Again, it’s still a good thing. Here Anders tackles foster parenting. Pete (Mark Wahlberg) and Ellie (Rose Byrne) are a married pair of house-flippers. Starting their marriage years before with nothing and finally finding financial security, Pete and Ellie discover now they’re just a little too old to start a family…from scratch.

Later that night, through an indirect comment from Pete, Ellie researches Foster Parenting on the internet and her maternal urges start to kick in. And in standard comedic fashion, Pete gazes on a site full of children lost in foster care as if they were puppies in a pet store window.

It is here that writers Anders and John Morris are primarily producing an almost two-hour infomercial on foster parenting. Unlike an infomercial, they lay out the good, bad, and frustrating and removes the rose-colored glasses about the process.

“…gazes on a site full of children lost in foster care as if they were puppies in a pet store window.”

Step one for Pete and Ellie are the foster parenting classes led by Karen (Octavia Spencer) and Sharon (Tig Notaro). As they present foster parenting to the new class, it’s clear Karen is the straight-shooting realist and Sharon is the by-the-book just give the facts. Foster kids are not dolls you play with at home. They are kids with baggage that need a chance for normalcy.

The rest of the class represent the typical broad diversity of parents needed for comedies. There’s the Christian couple, the gay couple, and the single woman looking for an athletic child, so as they say, “she can ‘Blind Side’ it.”

After passing the initial class, the parents attend a picnic with kids currently in the foster care system. While all the other parents are chasing the little kids, Pete decides to talk with the teens, who often go ignored at these events. Things don’t go well as Pete and Ellie are schooled by the teens’ leader, Lizzy (Isabela Moner). Taking a chance on the Lizzy, the pair schedules a meet-up with her to see if a connection can be made. Before the meet-up, Pete and Ellie are told that Lizzy has a younger brother, Juan (Gustavo Quiroz) and even younger sister, Lita (Julianna Gamiz). They come as a set.

From here all the joys, pitfalls, happiness, and heartbreak are all laid out for you. It’s almost like a foster parent checklist. First on the list is Pete and Ellie’s honeymoon period when everything gets along. This false sense of security blindsides them when Lita tantrums suddenly explode at the dinner table, Juan’s insecurities almost paralyzes him, and Lizzie is a teenager getting herself involved in seemingly inappropriate relationships. All leading to the inevitable you’re-not-my-real-parent moment.

“…attempt to give you the whole picture, warts and all, which is admirable..”

As far as a comedy goes, Instant Family is funny, but not for the seriously cynical types. As mentioned before, Instant Family has the exact same comic sensibilities as Daddy’s Home and Daddy’s Home 2, it just a lot sappier. Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne are good in the film, flexing their respective comedic muscles and not taking any real dramatic risks. Isabela Moner shines as Lizzie with an all-around good performance for her IMDB page.

Along the way is a great supporting cast to fuel the couple’s frustrations and film’s comedy. Most notable is Ellie’s family of competitive siblings and mother Jan played beautifully by Julie Hagerty. As Pete’s mom, Margo Martindale is a needed breathe of fresh air in the second act as the newly-minted Grandma Sandy. And finally a really weird cameo by Joan Cusack. It’s just weird and out of nowhere. How can you not love Joan Cusack?

The current state of Foster Care is overwhelming. But with every problem comes an opportunity to do right. Instant Family is a sales pitch and lays it on pretty thick. Unlike your Hallmark movies, Anders and Morris attempt to give you the whole picture, warts and all, which is admirable. Issue aside, you’re either going to walk away thinking about what you can do personally for a child or walk away feeling like you just saved yourself from buying a timeshare.

Instant Family (2018) Directed by Sean Anders. Written by Sean Anders, John Morris. Starring Mark Wahlberg, Rose Byrne, Octavia Spencer, Tig Notaro, Isabela Moner, Gustavo Quiroz, Julianna Gamiz.

7 out of 10 stars

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