Instant Family – Film Review by Frank L.
Director: Sean Anders
Writers: Sean Anders, John Morris
Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Rose Byrne, Isabela Moner
Sean Anders, as well as directing this sit-com also co-wrote it. It was inspired by his own experience as an adoptive parent. In the film, Pete (Mark Wahlberg) and Ellie (Rose Byrne) are a well-settled, childless couple. They make their living doing up old houses and selling them on. They live in a world of super green golf courses and everything that goes with an orderly existence. A chance comment by Ellie’s sister that Pete and Ellie were not going to have kids made them start to think. They mull over the idea of childlessness and then start out on the road to becoming foster parents. They attend a meeting with a suitably diverse mix of other potential foster parents which includes a religious fundamentalist couple, a gay couple and a professional single woman. The meeting is chaired by Karen (Octavia Spencer) and Sharon (Tig Notaro) who make frequent appearances throughout the process of Pete and Ellie trying to bring up the siblings Lizzy (Isabela Moner) who is a teenager, Juan (Gustavo Quiroz) her younger brother who is probably about nine and Lita (Julianna Gamiz) the youngest who is a handful. Their mother cannot cope and the father is nowhere to be seen.
The story careers through the daily happenings that any parents will encounter in bringing up kids but with the moments of drama intensified by Pete and Ellie’s overwhelming desire to be seen to be doing the right thing and their lack of confidence that they actually are. Their lack of skill is highlighted by the occasional visits of Grandma Sandy (Margo Martindale) who is larger than life and has a happy knack of breaking the rules to the delight of her “new grandchildren”.
The story veers between the seriousness of the uncertain legal status of foster parents as regards the birth mother and the moments of comedy as Pete and Ellie struggle with the innumerable crises that every day brings. The film makes clear the large number of children who are being brought up in institutions of one sort or another. So the film does have a serious side. No doubt comedy often greatly helps in the telling of a discomforting story and it certainly helps here. The acting of Moner as Lizzie and the duo of Spencer and Notaro as Karen and Sharon create a fine dynamic particularly the latter pair. There is something about the level of naivety that Wahlberg and Byrne are required to display by the script as the novice parents that does not serve well one of the purposes of the film which is to highlight the scale of the problem of children in institutional care. Maybe overplaying the naivety Pete and Ellie in a comic manner is a means for the film to be seen by a wider audience than a po-faced film about foster care would normally expect to receive. Whatever the purpose there is an uneasy balance in the script.
There are undoubtedly some delightful performances in this sit-com. Enjoy those moments but the film also expects you to remember the many children being brought up in institutions. It is a strange mix which is not resolved.