There are certain films you see a trailer for and you make a snap judgement based on two minutes of footage. You can’t help it, its in our nature. Instant Family was one such film for me. Honestly, I didn’t expect much. Coming smack dab in the middle of awards season, this isn’t trying to win best picture, hell it isn’t even looking to be nominated. What it is trying to do though is tell a simple, heartfelt story in a new and interesting way while staying out-of-the-way of all the politics of the Oscars. Personally I loved it because for all its Hollywood exaggerations, it still felt authentic.
Based on a true story, Instant Family tells the story of married couple Ellie (Rose Byrne) and Pete (Mark Wahlberg) who decide to become foster parents in the hope of adopting a child. When they decide to take in teenager Lizzy (Isabela Moner) they discover she also comes with younger siblings Juan (Gustavo Quiroz) and Lita (Julianna Gamiz). Their once quiet life is transformed into a mess of parenting mistakes and intrusive family members as they try to figure out how to live with this new family they have created.
While some will describe Instant Family as a film about family, it sheds this notion and uses it as a stepping stone to the concept of community and it is in this distinction that writer and director Sean Anders finds the essence of what makes this film great. Not immune to its share of Hollywood exaggeration, this story is made up of fantastical moments that have been inter-spliced with genuine real life parenting moments. Ellie and Pete’s moments at their fostering support group meetings especially feel real because everything coming out of these would be parents mouths seems like something that would happen outside of this world Ellie and Pete live in.
The amount of research that has gone into Instant Family seems extensive and the attention to detail by Anders and co writer John Morris in their script gives the film a celebratory dynamic. Not only is the story one designed to make you feel good, it is also a salute to the many men and women devoting themselves to fostering in general. The film embraces the rough and the smooth of everything they sign up for, it doesn’t shy away from any of it. If anything it is this commitment that defines it as more than your average family comedy.
Backed up by a cast that meshes well together including an utterly charming Byrne who manages to avoid the clichés of her control freak character with grace. The duo of Byrne and Wahlberg anchors the film as their chemistry and comic timing subdue some of the mawkish moments. However this really is an ensemble film. Not only are the support group moments rapturously funny but they hide real characters, living other lives. The addition of Moner is an equally inspired choice as she has the right mix of maturity and innocence. Clever in her choices, she never makes Lizzy more than she is, unafraid of the condescending, overused brat label.
If anything, Moner, Gamiz and Quiroz are propelled by a script that makes each character unique and gives them a story to tell. Anders’ film rarely dips its toes in the region of manipulation but understandably the film’s conclusion is a tad overindulgent. Despite this however it is the comedy, which is developed through the story, not around it that cuts the films sentimentality, often capping scenes to bring you back to reality.
Wonderfully empathetic towards not only this families struggle but also the lesser supporting players, Instant Family commits itself to a story less about where you have been but where you might be going if you just went with it and let people in. Intelligent, welcoming and just a little bit sappy, this was two hours I’d happily sit through again when it comes out on the 14th of next month. I suggest you do too.