Film Review – Instant Family
Movie Reviewing is tough because in judging the movie itself you have to look at the movie itself and not just it’s subject matter. Some stories are genuine filled with heart and goodness. But if the movie is just okay it makes you feel cruel for denigrating characters that are doing good works. If reviews were based solely on good intentions, Instant Family would get an A+.
Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne star as a couple who have come to a point in their lives where they are looking for something more together. They genuinely love each other and make a good living flipping houses, but they come to realize that they want to have children. Being older parents though, they are intimidated about starting from scratch. So they delve into the world of being Foster Parents. Through them, this light, mostly family friendly film shows the step by step journey parents deal with in the Foster system. A support group run by Tig Nitaro and Octavia Spencer tries to prepare them for the harsh realities that can await parenting potentially troubled youth. They get put through exercises involving CPR, how to respond to feelings of abandonment, and what traumas some of these kids may have already experienced. Then our couple lands on trying to Foster a teenager Lizzy (Isabela Moner) and her two troubled younger siblings Juan (Gustavo Quiroz) and Lita (Julianna Gamiz). Their birth Mother has been in jail for drugs so they have been in the system for a while. Wahlberg and Byrne provide them a nice home with all the support they can muster. But the trials of both raising kids and raising troubled kids has many obstacles. Juan’s nighttime crying fits, Lizziy’s rebellious dating, Lita’s defiant refusal to eat anything but Potato Chips. The daily grind of dealing with issues over time wears on the couple. But of course many life lessons are learned along the way.
Director and co-writer Sean Anders based this on his own real life story of adopting 3 kids themselves. So a lot of the situations ring true. At one point the couple has a joking conversation about returning the kids to Foster care and trying to work the angle that would make everyone they know pity them. But they also know that’s not really an option. The core of love and dealing with some real emotional issues is welcome. Unfortunately, a lot of it is undermined by a painfully on the nose sitcom sensibility. A lot is spelled out plainly for the audience. When an emotional moment comes up, in case you missed it, the soundtrack tries to underline it for you. Or a recurring gag where Wahlberg’s character keeps accidentally injuring Juan in various sports is right out of pratfalls 101. These kids are cute, and their story is likely close to true. But while things like drugs and emotional damage are mentioned, the movie never lingers too long on any of it.
For example, early in their parenting class, there is an inspirational speech given by a grown girl and the Foster parents that raised her. It is supposed to illustrate what this program can accomplish. Later in the movie, when our couple is having a tough time, they go to that original couple to ask advice. Their daughter isn’t around because she has a history of drugs and has relapsed, so she’s back in rehab. It’s meant to show that even the best examples from this program are dealing with serious issues. But that family’s story might have made for an even more compelling watch than this one. As Foster parents dealing with an actual drug addiction must be incredibly emotional. By comparison, the central family in this movie is closer to a sitcom family than a real one.
Again, the intent is noble here. Through humor and a capable cast, Instant Family is seeking to show the incredibly positive force that good Foster parenting can be. People who decide to take on the responsibility of a troubled kid in their own home are amazing. They even joke about it in the movie a bit. Early on Marky Mark says those kind of people are the type that volunteer even when it’s not a holiday while they don’t usually volunteer when it IS a holiday. And surely there are countless stories in this type of parenting that can produce countless comedic situations. It’s just so obviously told and so painfully on-the-nose at times that it undercuts some of the genuine emotion that is likely part of the real story.