Instant Family is a heartfelt mainstream comedy without the gross-out gags, yet is still funny and surprisingly moving. Byrne and Wahlberg are terrific.
At any point, on any given day, there are nearly 500,000 children in the foster care system in the United States. On average, children remain in the system for nearly 2 years before being placed with a single family, foster parents, or in a private facility. Nearly 6% of all foster children stay stuck in the system, for as long as five years. Combine this with the fact that in 2017 the United States had a record low of babies being born, there is a need for qualified individuals or couples who would like to have families that can’t. Instant Family isn’t a serious drama, it’s a comedy, but its sincerer than most.
Pete (Mark Wahlberg) and Ellie (Rose Byrne) live a comfortable life. As they reach a certain age, they start to look around at the people in their lives, with the families they have or are about to start. They might want a family of their own, but anything medical is too expensive and unattainable. They attend an adoption fair and come across a wayward 15-year-old named Lizzy (Isabella Wagner) who comes with two younger siblings. Soon, they dive headfirst into being foster parents, trying to form a family of their own.
The adoption process is anything but instantaneous, but Instant Family does a somewhat admirable job of showing you the challenges, beyond the rewards, of adopting children who are beyond infants. Octavia Spencer and Tig Notaro are perfectly cast as the social workers who work to place children in good homes while balancing comedy as well as some of the film’s serious moments. The movie is stolen by Margo Martindale, who plays Pete’s mother, who finally gets the grandchildren she has wanted.
Director Sean Anders’s (Daddy’s Home) comedy is not as non-descript as you would think and strikes the right balance of comedy with touching moments from its characters. The film is elevated by the lead performances of Wahlberg and Byrne, whose touching undertones bring the film to the definition of crowd-pleasing. Though, let’s face it, films like this live and die with the cute factor its child actors (Julianna Gamiz, Gustavo Quiroz) bring to the film. If cuteness was sugar, there’d be a lot of diabetic comas induced in theatres across the country.
Instant Family is a heartfelt mainstream comedy without the standard gross-out gags that have been so popular in the past decade, while being surprisingly moving. Anders’s film can be manipulative, but not overly so. The film does lack some mild common-sense issues and sugarcoats the child welfare system a bit, but it’s not trying to be an authority on the matter. It just wants you to care about the characters involved and the family they want to form, which it does successfully. Instant Family is an enjoyable comedy that had me laughing, while tugging at my heartstrings. It might not be the movie you thought you’d get, but you’ll love it just the same.
M.N. Miller has been a film and television writer for Ready Steady Cut since August of 2018 and is patiently waiting for the next Pearl Jam album to come out.