You need to bear with this film – the first 20 minutes will either have you wanting to leave or throw something at the screen thanks to the “fostering and adoption is so important. Here, have loads and loads of facts that will make you feel super guilty but you won’t remember the minute the funny business starts.”
Okay, we get it. Having kids in the care system is horrible and if we’re childless we should all feel horrible about ourselves and immediately rush out and foster 90 bajillion kids. The things that makes this brow-beating bearable is the hilarious onscreen chemistry between Karen (Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures, The Shape Of Water) and Sharon (Tig Notaro who I’d not heard of but is in a lot of American TV stuff).
Once you get over the “you should all be ashamed of yourselves” message, the film moves into more familiar comedic territory where we meet Pete (Mark Wahlberg) and Ellie (Rose Byrne) who feel something is missing in their lives but, as they have left having kids a bit late, think that adoption might be the best way to get an “age appropriate” family.
The couple finally settle on mouthy teenager Lizzy (played by the fantastic Isabela Moner who previously starred with Wahlberg in Transformers 5: The Last Knight – but don’t let that put you off). The problem? She comes with baggage – emotional in that her real Mum was a crackhead and physical in that she has a younger brother and sister and they all come as a package.
Pete and Ellie decide to take the trio on and there’s your typical comedic “getting to know you moments” from temper tantrums over not having crisps for dinner to playing with the boxes and not the presents during their first “family” Christmas.
There isn’t anything hugely adventurous or standout about this film, it’s pretty standard stuff. What is does do well however is deal with the sense of displacement and loss that children feel from being moved around the foster system, how it’s difficult for them to trust anyone for fear of being let down by the system and their own biological parents, and what it’s like from the foster parent’s point of view when dealing with the “you’re not my real parents” arguments and potential loss of the kids that they have grown to love.
That being said, while I did get a bit teary-eyed at parts (you’ll want to take some tissues), the film doesn’t take itself too seriously. Pete is worried that he and his white middle-class wife Ellie adopting 3 Hispanic children may be seen as white savior syndrome (we’re looking at you Madonna and Angelina Jolie) and in order to voice his fears he likens it swooping in to help the blue guys in Avatar which the Karen and Sharon assure him it’s not.
Wahlberg and Byrne are good as the put-upon parents but the standout performances are from the 3 children; Isabela Moner’s petulant teenager Izzy, walking accident waiting to happen Juan (Gustavo Quiroz) and the crisp loving Lita (Julianna Gamiz) – they all really hit the mark with their various roles and are a joy to watch on screen, I’m sure they’re all destined for great things.
The supporting cast are also well chosen, and well used. The teacher in the hallway trying to stop the floor polisher is hilarious, and keep an eye out towards the end of the film for a cameo from Joan Cusack who does steal a rather emotional scene between Pete, Elie and a distraught Lizzy.
Instant Family won’t win any awards but it Is a fun film, even if it’s a bit heavy handed on the foster and adoption message.
Oh, and stay through the end credits as the end credit track is sung by the talented Moner and it’s well worth a listen.
Watch this film if you’re looking for some fun, clever comedy with an emotional touch, or if you enjoy seeing people get kicked in the nuts by an irate Mum.