Instant Family

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

Instant Family
dir Sean Anders
scr Sean Anders, John Morris
prd Sean Anders, Stephen Levinson, John Morris, Mark Wahlberg, David Womack
with Mark Wahlberg, Rose Byrne, Isabela Moner, Gustavo Quiroz, Julianna Gamiz, Octavia Spencer, Tig Notaro, Margo Martindale, Julie Hagerty, Michael O'Keefe, Joan Cusack, Allyn Rachel
release US 16.Nov.18,
UK 14.Feb.19
18/US Paramount 1h58

spencer notaro martindale

Instant Family
Warm-hearted and packed with topical resonance, this comedy is based on a true story. Much of the humour is of the throwaway variety, with silly antics and corny jokes peppered through a narrative that's actually rather serious. The mix doesn't always work, but the movie is still well worth a look for the solid performances and a textured exploration of an important issue.
Pete and Ellie (Wahlberg and Byrne) have a lively marriage, busily buying fixer-upper houses and flipping them. Then a series of conversations about children starts them thinking about older kids in the foster system in need of homes. So they sign up for a programme led by Karen and Sharon (Spencer and Notaro) and take in three siblings: 15-year-old Lizzie (Moner), pre-teen Juan (Quiroz) and cheeky younger Lita (Gamiz). Both grandmothers (Martindale and Hagerty) are thrilled, of course, but Pete and Ellie wonder if they have bitten off more than they can chew.
The script weaves in issues relating to all three children. Lizzie is a rebel who has been taking care of her younger brother and sister on her own, reluctant to let anyone tell her what to do. Juan is sensitive, sweet and absurdly accident-prone. Lita is a little live-wire with particular ideas about everything. All of this is played relatively safely, including the ruder language and references to Lizzie sexting with an older boy. But at least the film tries to include serious rough patches, as obviously scripted as they may be.

Wahlberg and Byrne have terrific chemistry, channelling their comedic skills into enjoyably chaotic sequences. And Spencer and Notaro are a hilarious double act, even if their roles are completely undefined. Moner is slightly over-groomed as a troubled teen, but her superb on-screen charisma nails Lizzie's defiant attitude and builds a sense of camaraderie between these three kids. She also plays very nicely alongside the grown-ups in the cast, often stealing her scenes.

There would need to be a lot more darkness and edginess for this to be a truly honest depiction of how fostering children plays out, but this film tones everything down. Still, for what's essentially a comedy, it tackles some remarkably serious themes along the way, admitting the more painful struggles while focussing on the high points that a family like this is likely to remember in the years to come. In this sense, the movie genuinely taps into some very real emotions.

cert 12 themes, language 9.Jan.19

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© 2019 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall