Instant Family is directed by Sean Anders, who also co-wrote the film. The movie stars Mark Wahlberg, Rose Byrne, Julie Hagerty, Joan Cusack, Octavia Spencer, and Isabela Moner.
Pete and Ellie have a smooth life where they make decent money repairing and flipping houses, but something is missing from their lives. The two decide to take courses to learn about adopting a child, eventually taking custody of a sassy but intelligent teenage girl and her two younger siblings; an extremely sensitive young boy, and a young girl who throws temper tantrums when she doesn’t get her way. Pete and Ellie, despite some heartwarming moments, find themselves in over their heads, seeking help in parental support groups, and are even more distraught to discover the birth mother of the children, who has just served a prison term, wants to regain custody.
Okay, I’m going to be honest. I didn’t go into Instant Family expecting much. This was another collaboration between director Sean Anders and star Mark Wahlberg, whose last collaboration was the dismal Daddy’s Home 2, a movie I even placed on my Worst of the Year list last year. I went into this movie expecting a cavalcade of toilet humor, cheap laughs, physical humor, and a feeling of wasted talent and potential.
Boy, was I ever wrong!
Instant Family is hilarious, heartwarming, and dare I say it – one of the best movies I’ve seen all year. Anders succeeds with writing that will hit close to home for parents; the fact it was based loosely on his own experiences adopting children lends itself beautifully to the end results here. Surprisingly good and convincing child actors, something not always easy to find in the movie world, make this one to see.
The overall tone of the film beautifully balances hilarious humor and drama. We see three children who relocate from an unfavorable lower-class living arrangement to a more traditional middle-class home. The witty script from Anders has countless hilarious moments, and the chemistry between Walhberg, Byrne, and their adopted children, shines through in every scene. One minute, they sit down to enjoy a quality family dinner. The next, all hell breaks loose and the house is in ruins. Watching how two people who have never parented before deal with a bitchy teenage girl and young kids who lose their minds at the slightest upset results in some hilarious moments, but ones which also hit close to home. It’s rare to find that movie which strikes the perfect balance between comedy and drama, but Instant Family is damn near perfect in this regard.
I applaud Anders for not falling back on cheap laughs and toilet humor. There certainly are a few physical jokes and some crude humor along the way, but they never threaten to take over the film. It’s a hilarious film, and the fact that the characters are well-rounded and three-dimensional makes the experience all the more satisfying.
It’s also a perfectly cast film. Wahlberg and Byrne are perfect as the enthusiastic-but-clueless parents who find themselves in over their heads. Isabela Moner, who appeared earlier this year in Sicario: Day of the Soldado, is fantastic as the adopted teenage daughter who, despite her rough exterior and outbursts, is clearly a multi-faceted character with plenty of personal issues which show themselves throughout the movie. Other stand-out performances include Octavia Spencer as a wisecracking adoption agency employee who steals every scene she’s in with a hilarious (and often inappropriate!) one-liner.
My complaints with the film overall are minor. The two-hour running time is excessive for a film of this nature, though I won’t deny Anders uses every second of the movie well. A handful of tertiary characters could’ve been excised with no real loss of substance, including a few of the extended family members and support group attendees, many of whom are relegated to one-joke stereotype roles.
One minor thing worth mentioning – This film is rated PG-13, and does include some strong language and dramatic concepts which may not be appropriate for younger children.
Fortunately, Instant Family shines through. Sean Anders gives audiences a fantastic script which is simultaneously dramatic and hilarious, hitting close to home and giving us the best of both worlds with no tonal inconsistencies or cheap moments. It’s nice to have a comedy that’s actually funny and gives us three-dimensional characters, some of which are the most convincing and appealing child actors of recent memory. A very highly recommended film!
Rating: Three-and-a-half stars out of four.
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