I've never been a fan of writer and director Sean Anders work. Dumb and Dumber To,Daddy's Home, etc have never done it for me so I approached Instant Family with a lot of trepidation. Plus it's got Mark "Marky" Wahlberg who has not chosen the best projects of late.
Having said all that, I was totally won over by this simple and surprising story that had me laughing and welling-up at the right moments. It's also a true story about Sean Anders own real-life experience of adopting three siblings which added a certain weight, but not too much.
The story involves a 40-something couple named Pete and Ellie (Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne) who decide to foster three siblings, including a smart and rebellious teenager named Lizzy (Isabela Moner). With the help of dedicated case workers (Octavia Spencer, Tig Notaro), the group navigates the extremely bumpy road toward becoming a family.
This film offers heartfelt moments and touching details likely drawn from writer-director Sean Anders' actual experiences of fostering three siblings with his wife. This kind of story could easily veer into schmaltz, but Instant Family admirably avoids most of that. It comes off as authentically earnest, with some light touches and effective performances. Some moments are clearly exaggerated for comic effect, but generally speaking, the film feels rooted in reality (although I doubt the US foster-care system is as rosy as painted). Everyday pitfalls like getting the kids to eat and dress properly throw off the couple's once tidy existence and are issues every parent can identify with. Much larger, more serious issues, such as the re-emergence of the siblings' birth mother, also come up to complicate the story. If anything it's this sub-plot that feels clumsy and stands out against the main story as unresolved and awkward.
Playing Lizzy, Isabella Moner is impressive; she's intelligent and emotionally available. Spencer gets the lion's share of the laughs and delivers as the unfiltered half of a comic team with Notaro. Byrne and Wahlberg are, as always, appealing presences, each finding moments to shine and reveal the depth of their emotion toward the kids. Instant Family is ultimately a life-affirming testament to the strength of the families we choose.
It won't win any awards but you will enjoy it.