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On paper, Instant
Family has all the ingredients for being a mess. It’s directed by Sean
Anders – he of That’s My Boy, Daddy’s Home and Daddy’s Home 2 fame. It has a comedic lead turn from Mark Wahlberg.
And, it’s about a white couple adopting three latinx kids. Alarm bells are
But, dammit, Instant
Family is great.
And it’s likely thanks to Sean Anders himself. Partially
based on his own life, Instant Family sees
Wahlberg acting as the surrogate for Anders, with Rose Byrne stepping into the
role of Sean’s wife. Here, they are thirty-something Pete and Ellie Wagner –
house flipping power couple who never expected to have kids until they realise
they have a kid shaped hole in their life that needs filling. Not particularly keen
to have kids of their own, they opt to give adoption a shot. At an adoption
event, they meet Lizzie (the truly fantastic Isabela Moner), and thinking that
they are adopting just her, they put in an application. Little do Pete and
Ellie know that Lizzie actually comes with two siblings – Juan (Gustavo
Quiroz), and Lita (Julianna Gamiz).
What initially seems like a walk in the park quickly turns
into Pete and Ellie being out of their depth. While this seems like an
invitation for PG-rated hijinks to occur, Anders mines his own life experience
for some genuine humanity and crafts a film that encourages the open discussion
The reality of adoption with all its benefits and pitfalls
are explored with a surprisingly frank tone. It’s impressive to see a big name
Hollywood flick talk about issues like drug use and sexual assault in a manner
that might actually encourage genuine, open discussions within families. It’s
not exactly a Precious level
exploration into the trauma that kids face in broken homes, but it is enough to
applaud Anders for pushing this discussion into the open.
Instant Family also
doesn’t shy away from the immense level of privilege that the Wagner’s have,
with Wahlberg delivering one of the funniest lines of the film, afraid that they’re
going to be white saviours ‘Avatar style’.
Even better is the jab at The Blind Side that
comes with a single woman who is specifically looking for a tall, athletic
black teen that she can raise.
The casting of Tig Notaro and Octavia Spencer as the two
social workers who guide hopeful parents down the path of being ready for
adoption is inspired. Notaro and Spencer carry a beautiful warmth to their
roles where they help show the care and dedication that social workers put into
their career. Sure, it’s a little sugar coated here, but scratch beneath that
surface and you’ll see the exhaustive work that goes in to the adoption process.
It’s not all smiles and cheers though, as Instant Family does unfortunately
stumble near the end where Anders feels the need to vilify Lizzie, Juan, and
Lita’s drug addicted mother. It’s a hard line to tread, and unfortunately
Anders can’t help but lean into making Pete and Ellie a little too heroic near the end. A prime
opportunity to show the harmonic relationship that can sometimes exist between
adoptive parents and the birth parents is squandered.
It’s a small quibble in what is an overall heart warming, joyous, fun film. Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne are clearly at ease with these roles, bouncing off each other with great comedic timing, and a real sense that Pete and Ellie belong together. Instant Family is the sort of wholesome family entertainment we need more of. Enjoy.
Director: Sean Anders Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Rose Byrne, Isabela Moner Writers: Sean Anders, John Morris
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