Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne star in this sweet-natured comedy as a couple seeking to start a family through foster care, which is loosely inspired by writer/director Sean Anders own family dynamic.
Sean Anders is a director who has made a name of himself with some diverting if not particularly memorable comedies, ranging from 2008’s Sex Drive to Daddy’s Home and its sequel. Re-teaming with one of his stars from Daddy’s Home, Anders has now taken this opportunity to make his most personal film to date. With that extra level of attachment, Anders has made undoubtedly his best film, one that unashamedly wears its heart on its sleeve as an emotional and crowd-pleasing comedy.
Wahlberg and Byrne play Pete and Ellie Wagner, who decide to build their family. Curious about adoption, they both join a foster program in the hope of finding the ideal child to welcome into their home. They end up getting more than they initially bargained for when they take in three foster kids, the strong-willed teenager Lizzy (Isabela Moner) and her two younger siblings, Juan (Gustavo Escobar) and Lita (Julianna Gamiz).
What is most surprising about Instant Family is its level of earnestness, a level that you perhaps wouldn’t expect from the director of Daddy’s Home. Yes, there are still many moments of silly (but funny) slapstick gags and broader comedic beats playing on dysfunctional family tropes. But there is also something much more sincere at play here.
One of the main focuses of this film is to demonstrate just how the journey from fostering to adoption develops. Anders is keen to show just how difficult each step is, and how doubt and unease can set in at any point during the complicated process of pairing children in need with families who are willing to come forward and help.
The film is really quite brilliant at demonstrating the process, from joining the program to meeting the kids. Much of this is articulated by the excellent pairing that is Tig Notaro and Octavia Spencer, but there is also a number of experiences portrayed through the group that Pete and Ellie join. We get a flavour of all manner of couples, from same-sex marriages to single parents to devout Christians, establishing how this process is both similar and radially different for any type of family.
While Instant Family is filled to the brim with cornball sentimentality (largely supplied by a musical score that’s a tad over-cooked), it does not shy away from the darker realities that have placed these kids in need of a family. It is also very measured in the way it addresses how much doubt both Pete and Ellie and the other parents have as they go through the difficulties of becoming new parents. It all amounts in an experience that is all the more fulfilling, and likely to leave you reaching for the box of Kleenex.
All the performances across the board are up to the task of telling this story about love in the face of hardships and uniquely challenging circumstances. Wahlberg’s the most likeable he’s been in a long while, with his quick fire dialogue delivery helping lead to some fine comic beats. He works very well with Byrne, whose impeccable comic timing is on full display once again. All the kids, too, are incredibly charming, with Moner in particular putting across the sort of turn that should signal the coming of a new star.
There may be some that’ll find the sentimental sap running through the veins of Instant Family that many may find too sickly to enjoy. But that sweetness is so well offset by bringing in a surprising amount of emotional complexity, brought to life by some wonderfully in-sync performances. A heat-warming and benevolent delight.
Dir: Sean Anders
Scr: Sean Anders and John Morris
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Rose Byrne, Isabela Moner, Tig Notaro and Octavia Spencer
Prd: Sean Anders, Stephen Levinson, John Morris and MArk Wahlberg
DOP: Brett Pawlak
Music: Michael Andrews
Country: United States
Runtime: 118 minutes
Instant Family is out on DVD and Blu-Ray from June 10th.