When you hear that Mark Wahlberg is starring in a family movie about adoption and that Sean Anders is directing/writing, you have every right to be hesitant about seeing the finished product. Adoption is a long, emotional, and sometimes painful process that is never a sure thing for any couple. As of late Wahlberg has become best known for his action and (sometimes) dramatic fare while Anders has written a handful of Adam Sandler comedies that underwhelmed critically. What happens when you put these two opposites in a project together? You get Instant Family, a surprisingly well made and thoughtful movie.
The story follows Pete (Wahlberg) and Ellie (Rose Byrne), a couple who enjoy real estate and house flipping and are relatively happy with the life they’ve made together. When the couple begin to realize that they are missing something in their life, the two look to adoption, taking classes that introduce them to other couples who each have their own reasons for wanting to adopt a child. The two instructors, played by the insanely talented Octavia Spencer and Tig Notaro, guide these couples in their journey and eventually lead them to a group of three siblings: Lizzy, Juan and Lita who immediately present a challenge for the couple.
Throughout the film, Pete and Ellie begin to see the struggles of parenting and how their once quiet life is no longer so quiet. They need to learn how to be leaders and teachers while trying to bond with these children who haven’t had an easy life. Lizzy, being the oldest of the siblings, has become the mother to Juan and Lita, creating an obstacle for Pete and Ellie, making it much harder to truly be parents to these children. With the help of grandparents, various family and friends, and the dynamic duo that is Spencer and Notaro, the couple learns the importance of family and how to be the figures that their children need them to be.
This film had the ability to be a complete train wreck that over simplified the adoption process and made saints out of the leads. Instead, Instant Family presents a realistic and honest example of the adoption process and explores both the positives and negatives of trying to make a new family work. This is in part due to this film being based on the real adoption experiences of director Anders. Having a real-life experience to pull from grounded the story and helped ground the characters and their plight.
Instant Family is the perfect blend of comedy and drama with moments of laughter and levity along with moments of tender heartache, taking the audience on an accompanying journey of what it’s like to experience joy and sadness in tandem when having a child. The true depth of the film is realized in small moments, such as when Ellie is first called “mom” by one of the children, when you realize that this child finally feels like he has a place that belongs to him and his sisters and a family that he can call his own.
Along with the well thought out story, the film had an all-star cast that seemed to just keep adding incredible actors every 15 minutes. Wahlberg, Byrne, Spencer and Notaro all gave genuine performances. Isabela Moner, best known for her roles in Transformers: The Last Knight and Sicario: Day of the Soldado, gives a fantastic performance as Lizzy. Her overall spirited vibe that she’s become known for in her past films translated beautifully into her character. There were some great scenes with her and Wahlberg that really to the overall story. Actresses Margo Martindale and Julie Hagerty give realistic grandmother performances with Martindale being the fun grandma and Hagerty playing the quiet yet loving grandma.
Instant Family had an odd approach to the “white savior” trope it’s so clearly trying to avoid landing in by choosing to make fun of the idea and even poke it a bit. When asked if they have any concerns about adopting children, Wahlberg’s character tries to explain his fear of being looked at as “white saviors” by describing the plot of the film Avatar. Similarly, Comedian Iliza Shlesinger plays a woman attending the same adoption class as Pete and Ellie. When asked what she hopes to gain from the adoption process, she describes the plot of the film The Blind Side. Although both of these moments got the most laughs, they we’re the most delicate ways to address the issue.
Instant Family is a surprise of a film that will undoubtedly warm your heart. and make you want to tell your family how much they mean to you. The message of this story is that family doesn’t have a concrete definition, whether you’re related by blood, related by marriage, close friends, or adopted by a loving couple you are considered family.