Review: Instant Family

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Instant Family is a surprising revelation; really, I mean it in the best way possible – despitebeing a movie directed and co-written by Sean Anders of Daddy’s Homefame (which I did not hate), and especially one starring Mark Wahlberg.

Instant Familyis set around a typical format of a comedy with a PG-13 family friendly certificate;meaning the jokes won’t tilt the compass too much toward the risqué side, and things resolve with a comedic punchline at the bookends of scenes.

During the movie, lessons will be learned, while characters go through silly things, which will be made sillier by the supporting cast dropping the most inappropriate observations in between conversations. You know, the old formula. The thing, though, that binds this all together is the core of the story, which is about being a family even when you’re not related by blood.

That drama element is enough to give Instant Family emotional weight, but not so much as to qualify it as a dramedy.

Pete (Wahlberg) and his wife Ellie (Rose Byrne), buy old houses so that they can fix them up and sell for a better price. Happy with everything, they never really thought of having children of their own. Now close to midlife they come across the idea of adopting kids. It’s a noble act, but not one without its share of hurdles.

When Pete and Ellie get to the foster care center they meet Sharon (Tig Notaro) and Karen (Octavia Spencer) – two very competent, deadpan joke dropping, super sassy social workers with an unyielding good cop-bad cop vibe. The two guide and caution the couples who come to the center, sharing wisdom with little doses of comedy in the mix about the toughness and graveness of parenting a foster child.

Pete and Ellie train to adopt one, preferably young, child but they come home with three of Hispanic ancestry: tough-teenager Lizzie (Isabela Moner), her overtly sensitive brother Juan (Gustavo Quiroz) and the tiny but spirited Lita (Julianna Gamiz). Bumbling the adults go through the “honeymoon period” of the kids adjusting to them and them seeing only little angels. Then reality sets in, as rebellious tantrums and hurtful banter enter their lives.

Instant Family is well-adjusted to its in generic pace and story. However the execution is fresh, surprisingly real and funny. The constant struggle of the couple as they learn from each situation, face moments of uncertainty, and question of having done the right thing, is heartrending. Bringing a child with a broken family, and rebuilding what will be a new family without messing up is a huge responsibility. These nuanced emotions hold the movie together even in cheesy and predictable scenes.

Wahlberg does not seem to sleep-walk in this one (maybe his third time working with Anders is doing the trick). Moner performed with intelligence and Byrne, snug in her role, seamlessly goes through moments of drama and comedy in a single scene. Notaro and Spencer take the cake of being the best comedic decision of the movie. Another great bit of casting are the two grandmas – Margo Martindale and Julie Hagerty – who punch up the funny scale in their scenes.

Director Anders has made Instant Family from his own experiences of adopting three children from the foster system, which can be seen and felt in the movie. While one may remember the jokes from Instant Family, it is the message and good intentions that will be unforgettable.

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