Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Film Review: Instant Family

Sexuality/Nudity Acceptable
Violence Acceptable
Vulgarity Acceptable
Anti-Catholic Philosophy Acceptable

Some movies never really achieve greatness, but they are just nice experiences.  That is what you will find in Instant Family.

The movie is about Pete (Mark Wahlberg) and Ellie (Rose Byrne), a no-longer-young married couple that decide to enroll in their local foster program.  Originally they look to fostering a little child, but at little fair for foster children they meet Lizzy (Isabela Moner), a fifteen-year-old foster child with some wit and attitude.  Impressed by her, they seek to foster her along with her little brother Juan (Gustavo Quiroz) and Lita (Julianna Gamiz).  What follows is a story with a lot of heart and humor through the struggles of creating this new family.

One of the good things about the movie is that it doesn't sugar coat the fostering experience.  Do not misunderstand, this is not a dark melodrama about the emotional scars people endure like the movie Losing Isaiah.  Director Sean Anders is very good at treating the scenes with a light touch while not losing any of its emotional weight.  We laugh at Pete and Ellie as they go from a childless couple who do anything with their time to the never-ending onslaught of bath time, meal time, school, chores, etc.  They struggle and they screw up and things get out of hand.  All the while, even while the kids are bonding, their is rebellion and resistance.  The social workers Karen (Octavia Spencer) and Sharon (Tig Notaro) try to walk them through all of the emotional upheavals.  But this is not an after school special with easy answers.  And the issues range from getting children to eat dinner to underage sexting Somehow they tackle this emotional mine-field with great humor.

There are some heavier moments where the movie does kick in to dramatic territory without losing their overall tone.  And these scenes are also handled well.  I was particularly impressed by Moner.  In Transformers: The Last Knight, she was given very little to work with to show her acting range.  But that is different with Instant Family.  She has a charismatic screen presence, but she also creates a strong, three-dimensional character.  Of all of the children, she is the one who resists the most and wants to reunite with her birth-mother.  She does a great job of pushing every emotional button on Pete and Ellie while never letting you lose sympathy for her.  Wahlberg and Byrne have excellent chemistry with each other and the children so that the bonds they develop feel very strong.

The rest of the characters are completely flat.  All of Ellie's family are written in such caricature that they are quite laughable.   The other foster parents never really rise to any real depth, but we do feel strongly for them.  I was pleased to see a devoutly Christian couple in the foster group who was not raised for special ridicule because of their faith.  We see them get a little uncomfortable with a same-sex couple who are in their foster group, but the Christians are not singled-out as bigots.  In fact, the shared experience of fostering children brings all of them closer together without it feeling like the Christian couple has to compromise their beliefs.  But it feels as if all of the effort in character design and development went into Pete, Ellie, and Lizzy.  But all of that is just enough to pull you through the story because the connections between the characters are so strong.

This movie is not great, but it is not in any way a bad film.  And if you would like a little window into the world of fostering, you could do worse than Instant Family

image by Yasir72.multan

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