Although they’re enjoying an almost perfect life renovating and selling homes, Ellie (Rose Byrne) and Pete (Mark Wahlberg) feel that there is something missing from their family. As such they decide to foster a child, forming a connection with an older teenage girl. However, Lizzy (Isabela Moner), comes with additional complications, a younger brother (Gustovo Quiroz) and sister (Julianna Gamiz) each with their own distinct needs. Soon Ellie and Pete find themselves juggling the needs of a three children family, and threaten to crack under the strain.
Overly sentimental, and blatantly emotionally manipulative, Instant Family could so easily have become a Hallmark film about the joys and tribulations of fostering. Indeed in this regard it is successful, pushing those buttons to elicit sighs of endearment from the audience, but it also has just a touch more about it, giving it a hint of shade and nuance. Thankfully this avoids the diabetic coma that would have resulted otherwise, and produces a film that knows it’s target audience, is generally sweet, but can have a little bit of fun along the way.
Part of this is the combination of the stars. Both Wahlberg (Daddy’s Home) and Byrne (Bad Neighbours) are no strangers to the comedy genre, pitch their performances correctly, and bring a slightly darker tone to the roles that the film desperately requires to be palatable. Perhaps the standout sequence is the moment they quietly discuss the option of giving the kids back, quickly hit the downside of the social condemnation they would they would receive, and plan scenarios where they would be able to leverage sympathy from friends and family instead. It’s morally reprehensible, darkly funny, and extraordinarily human.
The kids also manage to pull their weight here, from the grown up before her time Isabela Moner, to the hilariously accident prone Gustavo Quiroz, to Julianna Gamiz, the young princess with a monstrous temper – all hit the mark, both in terms of comedy, and sentimentality.
Sean Anders brings us pretty much the film that you’d expect from the director of Daddy’s Home tackling a “real life inspired” story of foster parents, but perhaps one of the better versions that you could expect. There are some issues with pacing and structure, with Instant Family being a touch over long at the two hour mark, and slightly sloppily constructed, using what feels like a series of stitched together family sitcom episodes to create narrative – but nothing too detrimental to its audience pleasing ambitions.
Instant Family might be entirely about the “feels”, but doesn’t forget to bring some fun to the equation as well. Nothing ground breaking, but is certainly a solid example of the genre that uses more than a spoonful of sugar to help it go down.