Instant Family Review: The Biggest Surprise of the Year
Instant Family is the newest film by Director Sean Anders which he co-wrote with John Morris. Pete (Mark Wahlberg) and Ellie (Rose Byrne) are a happily married couple, who after joking about wanting to adopt, end up going through the foster parent process and fostering three children. Instant Family highlights what it is like to be a foster parent complete with all the hilarious mishaps and heartbreaking realities that foster parents often face. The film was inspired by Anders own experience with adoption, and because of that, the film is incredibly personal.
When I first saw the trailer for Instant Family, I cringed. The trailer looked like Daddy’s Home 3 and I couldn’t help but wonder why we needed another Daddy’s Home type film? However, I am an optimist so I inquired about a screening and saw the film a few weeks ago. Over the course of a calendar year, I watch more than 300 films and I can say with complete honesty that I cannot remember the last time I was this emotionally impacted by a film. As the end credits began to roll, I sat next to my wife and just bawled my eyes out during the credits. I sort of managed to pull myself together as I made my way to exit, only to be stopped by a Paramount rep who asked me, “what did you think?” As I began to share my thoughts, the emotions came flooding back, and I started to tear up again and continued to do so all the way to the car.
I am a sucker for films where I connect with the characters and feel an emotional attachment towards them. This is a huge reason why Instant Family struck a chord with me. I grew up in New Jersey and for the first few years of my life, I was an only child. However, around the age of five, my parents decided to become foster parents. While I can’t remember the name of the first foster child who lived with us, I can tell you that throughout the 18 years that I lived in the state of New Jersey, we fostered at least two dozen children from newborns to teenagers. Out of the two dozen foster children that lived in my house at one time or another, my parents ended up adopting six boys. Long story short, I have six adopted brothers, two who are white and four who black.
As someone who has lived in a household that had fostered at least two dozen children, I can say with all certainty that most of what occurs in Instant Family is very true to life. The film highlights that there are a lot of teenagers in foster care and that they are often the hardest to find a placement for. This is a fact. In addition to teenagers, children of color are typically in foster care for a long time because as pointed out in the film, they usually are accompanied by a sibling or aren’t what people or couples tend to be looking for. I love and admire how the film doesn’t try to sugarcoat these harsh realities even when it is poking fun at this type of person like the film does with Iliza Shlesinger‘s character, October. Her whole bit about The Blind Side was freaking brilliant.
There haven’t been a lot of films or television shows that have delved into the foster care system or adoption. The only example in recent memory that has somewhat touched upon the process is the television series. This is Us. There was a big chunk of the second season dedicated to Randall trying to adopt Déjà. The show did an excellent job of showcasing how hard and complicated it can be bringing a teenager into a home out of foster care. However, with Instant Family, Anders shows multiple individuals and couples going through the training course before they can even bring a child into their home. You see how during these sessions that not everyone is cut out to be a foster parent. In addition, the film shines a bright light on how having foster children in a home can be a very trying experience. The scene where Pete and Ellie lay in bed and think about returning the three children to the foster care center is a compelling and emotional moment. You can completely understand why they feel that way even though three innocent lives could be affected by that decision.
Films like Instant Family are rare because most live-action family films tend to skew more towards children than adults. Sean Anders and John Morris have found the sweet spot with Instant Family because they have created a heartwarming family-friendly comedy that is as unapologetically honest as it is hilarious. The jokes in Instant Family are not the typical jokes that you would often find in a family film. There aren’t any jokes about pooping or farting but rather jokes that tend to push the envelope a bit. In other words, the film doesn’t try to play it safe but it knows what it is and it knows how to appeal to a broader audience than the standard family-friendly comedy like Daddy’s Home or Cheaper by the Dozen. The film is also filled with sharp and witty dialogue that is genuinely funny because it comes off as natural rather than scripted.
The casting in this film is phenomenal. I would never have thought that Mark Wahlberg would be able to pull off a role like this. He is fantastic and delivers a performance that is nuanced and emotional. I love Rose Byrne as an actress and think she is brilliant. However, I have never seen her this emotionally raw before. Wahlberg and Byrne don’t feel like actors in this film but instead a real couple which makes their performances even more noteworthy. The scenes where they are happy together seem so incredibly authentic as do the scenes where they fight. This is favorite Mark Wahlberg performance to date and one of my top three favorites from Rose Bryne.
Isabela Moner, Gustavo Quiroz, and Julianna Gamiz play Lizzie, Juan, and Lita. All three of these actors are relatively new to the acting world but prove in this film that they are three rising talents that you should be keeping an eye on especially Isabela Moner, whose career is undoubtedly going to explode in the next few years. Granted, Moner plays a teenager, but she is no ordinary teenager. She is one that has had to watch over her brother and sister while dealing with growing up and being bounced around from home to home.
Seeing Octavia Spencer paired alongside Tig Notaro seems like such a weird choice on paper but on-screen they make the perfect odd couple. Spencer and Notaro’s characters are in charge of the foster care facility and while they provide big laughs, they are also the ones who must inform and educate the potential parents of their responsibilities. Spencer and Notaro’s role in this story requires a lot out of them as actors and they both pull off the task flawlessly.
Instant Family isn’t some Disney-fied portrait of foster care but instead is an honest and emotional rollercoaster that shows all the stages of the adoption process. Anders’ film proves that sometimes stepping outside of your comfort zone and doing something that you are uncertain of can ultimately become a life-changing decision, not only for you but others as well. With all the films that come out each year, audiences have become increasingly more and more leery of seeing a film that doesn’t pique their interest right away. If a trailer doesn’t do an excellent job of selling a movie or starting a conversation, a lot of casual moviegoers probably won’t end up seeing it unless the film receives good word of mouth. I genuinely hope that this is the case with Instant Family as it is not only the biggest surprise of the year but one that is so incredibly important. This touching and powerful film shouldn’t be missed as it encourages potential parents to be open-minded about adoption. By incorporating his own story along with many others, Sean Anders has created something extraordinary that has the potential to help hundreds, if not thousands of children in foster care find homes.
Scott ‘Movie Man’ Menzel’s rating for Instant Family is a 9.5 out of 10.