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Film review by Jason Day of Instant Family, the comedy about a privileged suburban couple (Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byne) who adopt three under-16 years old siblings. Co-starring Isabela Moner.
Pete (Mark Wahlberg) and Ellie (Rose Byrne) are a contentedly married couple who have just bought a dilapidated house, with a view to doing it up and selling it for profit. During the renovations and with the constant talk of babies from their families, they decide to try fostering a child to see if their parental instincts will kick in.
After numerous training sessions with Social Workers Karen (Octavia Spencer) and Sharon (Tig Notoro) they take in troubled, sulky teen Lizzy (Isabela Moner) and her two younger siblings – nervous, accident-prone Juan (Gustavo Quiroz) and aggressive, tiny Lita (Julianna Gamiz).
Within their pristine, ordered home, only chaos on ensue.
Review, by @Reelreviewer
Sometimes, it worries me that I can’t ‘enjoy’ popcorn movies.
I’ve always thought critically about movies. Even as a child, I was subconsciously analysing meaning behind and between those precious frames of celluloid. From Poseidon to Potemkin, I was prepping myself for a life of writing and talking about them.
But since I started note-taking during screenings for my write-ups, I’ve gone all serious and professional. Now, watching a film is something I do for work, not play.
Watching Instant Family, admittedly a movie of very broad, knockabout laughs, I felt a twinge of cinematic elitism as I watched kids getting hit with basketballs, parents screaming abuse at teenagers and adults having clown faces scrawled over them in permanent marker pen.
I’ll say at this point that it is good to see familiar names in the opening credits. Julie Hagerty, as Byrne’s Tweety-Pie voiced Mom and Joan Cusack as a truly bizarre neighbour who spies on Lizzy’s emotional breakdown and asks for a hug afterwards. These actors are always welcome, but are wasted here in support in horrible roles.
I’ll also admit that I laughed at Instant Family. Unavoidable as some of this ‘slap-schtick’ was amusing, but why wasn’t I feeling the fun inside?
Everyone else was, judging by the belly-laughs erupting all around me. Or were they in the same boat as me, viewing this improbable pap and masking the experience with giggles?
Wahlberg and Byrne at least get mileage out of those giggles in a dodgily premised film. You can believe that these are two uptight, prissy, privileged people who get a deserved comeuppance for their decision to foster children out of a dreadfully misplaced sense of ‘doing good’ for ‘rescue kids’.
That phrase is uttered by Wahlberg during ‘fostering orientation’. It s obviously meant to show comically how unready he is to take care of children and used as a contrast at the inevitably happy ending in which he has had a complete personality change.
No spoiler alert is needed here – you’ll sense it long before. This is part of what makes the film so improbable.
I get that it is played for laughs – but how? Would any Social Worker worth their salt witnessing this comment – and other alarm-bell ringers from the other random couples in attendance – let it slide?
How desperate are they to see vulnerable children in care go to a clearly not very happy home?
Why would a writer deliberately opt for rough and tumble, Tom & Jerry action and disturbingly lax social care professionals to help highlight the serious message that more foster parents are needed in the world?
How unbalanced is this film?
This explains why the Social Workers, played by Spencer and Notoro, seem so wacky and off the wall, prone to the odd profane, inappropriate quip. Or as another Social Worker might say – wholly unprofessional.
I work alongside Social Workers. I have friends who work in fostering. I am not part of the profession myself, but I have an inkling of their work and how deeply committed they are to doing a good job, the huge amount of research and investigation that goes into the people who wish to foster just one child and the commitment that goes into following that fostering and picking up the pieces if things go wrong.
They would not casually chuck in a couple of extra kids so the parents can ‘upgrade from just the one’ to move the children from an obviously traumatic, neglectful abode.
Egregiously, incredibly the film closes by revealing facts and figures about the number of children who are in care in the USA, flashing up the website for a campaign to encourage more people to foster.
Good grief! Based on the characters in the preceding film, it’s easy to see why kids in America might opt for the care system rather than a foster home.
I hope very much that audience members worldwide have a bit more about them…and take long, deep looks in the mirror and all around before ‘signing up.’
Cast & credits
Director: Sean Anders. 1hr 57mins/117mins. Paramount. (12a)
Producers: Sean Anders, Stephen Levinson,
Writers: Sean Anders, John Morris.
Camera: Brett Pawlak.
Music: Michael Andrews.
Sets: Clayton Hartley.