By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
Considering that this movie comes from the director of Daddy’s Home and Daddy’s Home 2, I went into this screening with low expectations. I just could not find much entertainment value in these two previous films by Sean Anders. Regarding his latest entry, Instant Family, however, I was pleasantly surprised. Though the attempts at humor don’t always work and often come across as heavy-handed, this film offers some genuinely heartfelt messages about foster parenting and the heartbreaking experiences that foster children often go through. Sure the presentation isn’t superbly executed, but Sean Anders and his co-writer John Morris put some genuine love into this fictionalized adaptation of Anders’s real experiences as a foster parent.
Rose Byrne and Mark Wahlberg star as Ellie and Pete, a childless married couple who have maintained a successful career flipping houses. As hard as they work and as much as they enjoy the fruits of their labor, both husband and wife feel like something is missing. At the same time, they are afraid to attempt parenthood for the first time. In an attempt to give parenting a trial run, Pete and Ellie decided to enter the foster parenting program. What they don’t initially realize is that this special kind of parenting presents some unique challenges of its own.
Despite the spotty amount of humor that actually works, I enjoyed this film overall. What works best is when the silliness gets set aside, and the realities of the foster parenting experience comes into play. Because Anders can honestly speak from his personal experience, this gives the film a definite advantage. Anders and Morris do not shy away from the ugliness and high stress that affects not only the foster parents, but also the children who are displaced from their birth parents. And that’s what makes this movie work. The beats involving the serious and emotional side of things work so well that they certainly touched my heart.
It also really helped that the lead cast members put their hearts into their respective roles. Rose Byrne gives a solid turn that mixes humor, stress, anger, and heartbreak. Mark Wahlberg does his usual hyper and slightly angry schtick, and it actually works well for his character in this movie. He is quite credible in the role of a father who is caring, but sometimes has trouble expressing his love. His character also wants to be “the cool dad,” but often fails in achieving this goal.
Isabella Moner stars as Lizzy, the oldest of the foster trio taken in by Pete and Ellie. Fifteen year-old Lizzy has often had to play the role of adult while caring for her younger siblings Juan (Gustavo Quiroz) and Lita (Julianna Gamiz). Moner gives an impressive performance as the strong and willful young lady, a bright teen with some serious trust issues. The movie also features some enjoyable performances and appearances by Octavia Spencer, Tig Notaro, Tom Segura, Allyn Rachel, Margo Martindale, Julie Hagerty and Iliza Shlesinger.
And because the filmmakers and the cast all seem to have their hearts in the right place, they all manage to pull off this lovable and poignant comedy film. With Daddy’s Home and Daddy’s Home 2, Sean Anders didn’t have a more personal stake in making those films. Because Instant Family serves as a reflection of his own life and what he truly believes, he proves himself as a solid writer and director who can genuinely speak from the heart through film. I would like to see him take on better projects in the future, because when he really puts his heart and mind into it, he can produce quality material.