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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Dan's Review: "Instant Family" a tender, funny look at foster families

Nov 16, 2018 10:06AM ● By Dan Metcalf

Mark Wahlberg, Rose Byrne, Isabela Moner, Gustavo Quiroz, and Julianna Gamiz in Instant Family - © 2018 Paramount Pictures.

Instant Family (Paramount Pictures)

Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, sexual material, language, and some drug references.

Starring Mark Wahlberg, Rose Byrne, Isabela Moner, Gustavo Quiroz, Julianna Gamiz, Octavia Spencer, Tig Notaro, Margo Martindale, Julie Hagerty, Tom Segura, Allyn Rachel, Michael O'Keefe, Joan Cusack, Iliza Shlesinger, Charlie McDermott, Eve Harlow.

Written by Sean Anders and John Morris.

Directed by Sean Anders.



Parenting is hard. As a parent of six (welcome to Utah), I know. As difficult (and joyful) as it’s been to raise my clan (okay, the spouse did most of the work), I can’t imagine what it would be like to raise foster kids, most of whom come from broken homes, criminal environments or tragic circumstances. Foster kids are the main subject of Writer/Director Sean Anders’ new movie Instant Family, starring Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne as a young couple who take three siblings into their home.

Pete (Wahlberg) and Ellie (Byrne) seem content to own and operate their house-flipping business without having kids until an awkward discussion leads to an investigation into foster kids. Pete and Ellie attend adoption training, where they meet other couples from various backgrounds and with varying motivations to become foster parents. While attending a meet-and-greet for foster kids and parents, Pete and Ellie meet Lizzy (Isabela Moner), a spunky teenager with a sharp tongue. The couple wants to take Lizzy into their home, but there’s a catch: they also have ot take in Lizzy’s two younger siblings Juan (Gustavo Quiroz) and Lita (Julianna Gamiz). Pete and Ellie stumble through the first few weeks of parenting with varying degrees of success and failure. Juan is accident prone and supersensitive, while Lita has some annoying dietary demands. Lizzy is more troublesome, having become jaded after years of neglect from her drug addict birth mother and a few stays with bad foster parents. Lizzy also begins to rebel against all rules, stretching Pete and Ellie’s patience. She also becomes vulnerable to the sexual deviancy of an adult employee at her school, causing Pete and Ellie to take drastic steps to protect her. The situation grows worse when the kids’ birth mother is released from prison and goes through the steps to gaining custody back, just at the moment when Pete and Ellie are beginning to make a real connection as parents. Court proceedings follow, which threatens to break up the family again.

I have to be honest that I went into the Instant Family screening with a biased view, thinking it would be “just another” forgettable, zany family comedy starring Mark Wahlberg, much like his recent Daddy’s Home films. Boy, was I wrong. Instant Family is a very funny, very heartfelt look at foster families, tackling some of the stereotypes behind race, foster kids and adoption. Sean Anders’ script is very clever and brutally honest about some of the misconceptions people have about foster care while allowing for plenty of laughs beyond physical comedy. Wahlberg’s performance is especially funny portraying a vulnerable knucklehead without reverting back into his usual tough-guy persona. I also don’t think Rose Byrne gets enough credit for her comedic talents, on full display in Instant Family. She’s the anchor in a movie that could have strayed too far into melodramatics or silly pratfalls. Keep an eye on Isabel Moner, too. She has real talent and real potential to take off as a major star.

Instant Family is a movie that will make you laugh and cry. It will also make you feel all the more close to your family, and perhaps influence more good people to care for kids who are the innocent victims of abuse, neglect, and poverty.

Instant Family Trailer