“Instant Family” (2018)
Running Time: 118 minutes
Written by: Sean Anders and John Morris
Directed by: Sean Anders
Featuring: Mark Wahlberg, Rose Byrne, Isabela Moner, Tig Notaro, Margo Martindale, Julie Hagerty and Octavia Spencer
Karen: “Lizzie comes with two younger siblings.“
Pete: “Oh, my God!”
Ellie: “God, they’re adorable!”
Pete: “Why would you show us that? That’s wrong.”
This week sees the release of a new family comedy in the form of “Instant Family” (2018) a harmless diversion that seeks to capitalise on the more comedic side of Mark Wahlberg as well as teaming him with an actress that has proven herself to sometimes be the only bright part of any movie she is in with Rose Byrne. Of course, this is a movie that also seeks to replicate the success Whalberg enjoyed with two previous efforts in “Daddy’s Home” (2015) and “Daddy’s Home 2” (2017), the major difference being those movies teamed him with Will Ferrell who could carry much of the actual humour leaving his co-star to do what he is good at which is act, more or less, like a bully. What this new movie attempts is to make a something that does not just tip its hat towards being a family comedy, but embrace that completely by casting child actors as the major support for the two leads, which in itself can be problematic as it requires a certain sense of empathy for all involved. The other element of this movie that requires attention is the genre it is attempting to place itself in, while it does contain humour this really should have been a drama, however in doing that it would have come off more like a ‘movie of the week’, not a major motion movie with larger stars that permeate this story, such as Byrne, Whalberg, Oscar winner Octavia Spencer, comedian Tig Notaro and a whole host of very well-known character actors that all raise the bar on what is ultimately a fairly predictable story.
Of course predictability describes a vast majority of Hollywood movies which are on the surface very much enjoyable affairs, and it is not an easy task to market a movie about child adoption to a mass audience as it can be a tricky subject to either make a traditional happy story out of and to make fun of without reducing it to scenes that have all been done before or to make quick cutting montages, which is almost always the case. However, what is refreshing with this particular movie is that the director has left his (mostly) slapstick side seen previously, to offer some real scenes about characters that (mostly) feel authentic, which is a rare commodity within this genre, in fact there are few caricatures present in this classic narrative. There is actually much to enjoy in this movie, the fact that it is told from the viewpoint of the parents means that we see a side of this equation that is rarely explored, that is the courage, hard work, dedication, failure and sacrifice that is made by adoptive parents, especially those that adopt three siblings that are all older, set in their ways and are at some point resentful. “Instant Family” does complete the narrative by illustrating the positive elements that come out of adoption, the fact that if all the trials and tribulations are worked through the outcome is one of positivity as well as rewarding, because as parents they have chosen their children, standing by them, as in this movies case through good and bad. I was prepared not to enjoy or like this movie, especially after the trailer, but I had a great time with this story, it had its issues, but overall it was more real than any of Mark Wahlberg’s recent movies, dramas, action or comedies.
“Instant Family” is based around married couple Pete and Ellie Wagner, after being taunted by relatives who think they will never have kids, start considering the option of adopting a child. Initially half-serious, they eventually decide to enrol in a foster parent’s course. The couples are brought to a fair where they have the chance to go up to kids that they are interested in adopting. Pete and Ellie walk by the teenagers, although Ellie shows hesitance over raising a teen. Of course, you can guess where the story is going, not only do they take in a teenager but also the teenager’s younger brother and sister as well. From there the story goes where you might expect as well as places you might not, but I will not spoil it as it is rather enjoyable both in a comedic and dramatic way.
The two stars of this movie are Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne as the parents who adopt the three children, they both give the performances you might expect, Wahlberg is a little stiff, attempting to play someone real, who is relatively normal and has degrees of subtly I am not sure he is actually able to play believably. However, the strength of this movie comes down to the performances of Rose Byrne and Isabela Moner as adoptive mother and daughter respectively who possibly have the most screen time as well as the most complicated relationship in the entire movie. Over the past few years Byrne has shown herself adept at playing real emotional characters that come to life onscreen, the only real thing holding her back are the projects she is involved in, I think she is better than almost all of them, I wish she could be in a film that would enable her to really stretch and show the kind of skill she obviously has. Then there is relative newcomer Isabela Moner who might only be young but has proven she is extremely talented, like Byrne able to portray emotional characters with some kind of agency much like she does her and did last year in the criminally underrated“Sicario: Day of the Soldado” (2018). A special mention has to be made of the two (slightly) comic relief characters in Octavia Spencer and Tig Notaro who are a ying and yang like support for the adoptive parents, they also act as the main source of exposition but use comedy to do this which is welcome and they are both excellent.
This is by no means a perfect movie but there is enough going on within the narrative for most and it is a genuine family movie in almost every way which is a relief when searching for something that is appropriate for almost all ages. Directed and co-written by Sean Anders who at this stage if his career is an experienced film maker he knows how to construct a narrative around a plot as well as how to harness all his actors which is a delicate element with this kind of subject matter. “Instant Family” is his most serious movie to date especially compared to his previous efforts which are more broad comedies that are all fairly uneven, unlike this new movie. Hollywood directors moving from comedies to dramas is nothing new, in fact it is occurring more and more, where this differs is that all important tone or genre within which it fits. What would have been more original as well as more impactful would have been to move this movie more towards a drama, this may have meant it would have had more of an impact as well as pushing through the social element thereby impacting on audiences other than with an emotional element which can come off as manipulative.
Ultimately though this is a very enjoyable movie and will be a lovely surprise to viewers who have no idea what to expect from this as it was not marketed well. In fact as I have said this is a movie that has lessons to instil for those who wish to receive them.