The back catalogue of writer/director Sean Anders is one littered with titles that have ranged from the amusing (2013’s Jennifer Aniston comedy We’re The Millers) to the downright awful (helming Adam Sandler’s forgotten 2012 effort That’s My Boy wasn’t a great choice), so one would be forgiven for assuming his latest, Instant Family, would perhaps follow suit.
A cut above your average comedy, Instant Family is evidently a passion project for Anders in that it deals with the subject of adoption, something that he has personal experience with as a foster father himself. Considerably more charming than his last family-centred comedies, 2015’s Daddy’s Home and its 2017 sequel, Instant Family succeeds off the back of the film acting as both a product of grounded and heightened comedy.
In one of his more likeable turns as of late, Mark Wahlberg leads the charge as Pete Wagner who, along with his loving wife Ellie (Rose Byrne), flips run-down properties for a serious profit following his own DIY input. Kids is something Pete and Ellie have only contemplated throughout their marriage, but a recently felt void drives them to consider adoption.
Learning from social workers Karen (Octavia Spencer) and Sharon (Tig Notaro) that adoption isn’t a decision to be taken lightly, and that older foster kids are in danger of becoming citizens of the system, Pete and Ellie’s bond with rebellious teen Lizzie (Isabela Moner), and subsequently her two younger siblings, appears almost too good to be true.
Much of Instant Family‘s near-two hour running time is centred around Pete and Ellie trying to make headway with Lizzie. She’s self-reliant and has essentially raised her younger brother and sister by herself, so, as much as Pete and Ellie try their best to win her over, we understand her reluctance at wanting to be accepted by a couple who are just as inexperienced at parenting as she is at letting someone lift her burden. There’s obvious affection displayed between Wahlberg and Byrne as both a couple and parents, but the film isn’t above showcasing their flaws too, so when a hint of acerbity lingers in both their attitude and dialogue, we sympathise rather than sneer.
It could’ve been easy for Anders to let the film drift into slapstick territory over its course, so it comes as something of a surprise that Instant Family tends to aim more for the heart rather than a cheap laugh, and more often than not it succeeds. Wahlberg has seldom been this likeable on screen, Byrne is (as expected) a treat, and Moner (coming off the hard-hitting Sicario sequel, and soon to be seen as the live-action Dora in Dora the Explorer) manages to toe the line between entitled teen and damsel in distress without overdoing either archetype; the supporting cast is quite grand too, with Julie Hagerty earning a few laughs as Byrne’s scatter-brained mother, and Margo Martindale as Wahlberg’s tough-but-loving ma.
If the bland trailers have you concerned that this may be another throwaway, saccharine comedy, I urge you to give this a look-in, especially those with children. This is far less of an exaggerated comedy than it appears, and I dare say you’ll be well rewarded with genuine family entertainment that doesn’t talk down to its intended audience.
About Instant Family
When Pete (Mark Wahlberg) and Ellie (Rose Byrne) decide to start a family, they explore the world of adoption. When they meet a trio of siblings, including a rebellious 15-year-old girl (Isabela Moner), they find themselves unexpectedly speeding from zero to three kids overnight. Now, Pete and Ellie must hilariously try to learn the ropes of instant parenthood in the hopes of becoming a family. INSTANT FAMILY is inspired by the real events from the life of writer/director Sean Anders and also stars Octavia Spencer, Tig Notaro and Margo Martindale.
Instant Family (PG) is screening in Australian theatres from January 10th 2019.