Dateworthy? “Instant Family”
Is “Instant Family” worth a date night? Absolutely!
Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne team up for this extremely affecting movie. It’s based on the film’s co-writer/director Sean Anders’ true-life story about adopting three foster-care siblings. The three kids turned his life upside down in the best way.
The movie is funny, moving, expertly acted and features several positive Christian characters. It’s also a thoroughly mainstream Hollywood movie. This is a film that could inspire adoptions and save lives! Definitely one of the year’s 10 best films.
One of the most heartbreaking problems in American society is the number of children and teenagers in the foster care system. According to the advocacy group Children’s Rights, there are nearly 438,000 children in foster care in the U.S. on any given day. Over 687,000 kids having spent time in U.S. foster care in 2016. In L.A. County alone, 1,400 children are awaiting adoptive families. These children have a harder time than infants to get adopted because people often assume they are psychologically and emotionally scarred.
The new movie “Instant Family” shines a remarkable light on their plight by telling the story of a suburban couple who experience an emotional roller coaster when they adopt three troubled siblings from the foster system. Directed by Anders from a screenplay he co-wrote with frequent collaborator John Morris (they wrote “We’re the Millers” and the two “Daddy’s Home” films together), the story is rooted in his real-life experiences adopting foster kids. That personal connection gives the film an impressive emotional honesty along with a hearty sense of humor.
A childless couple and an instant family
Mark Wahlberg plays a housing contractor named Pete. He buys shoddy homes and flips them with his wife Ellie (Rose Byrne). The film finds the couple realizing that they might want kids after years of denying it. They decide to adopt. Ellie explores foster care sites in the hopes of making a genuine impact on a troubled life. She also figures that she and Pete will have it easier than fostering an infant by skipping the early, crying years.
The couple works with a pair of social workers. One is a by-the-books woman (Tig Notaro), joined by and her sassy partner (Octavia Spencer). They join a support group that’s designed to teach them about the difficulties inherent to adopting foster kids. Pete and Ellie decide to foster a pretty but feisty 15-year-old girl named Lizzy (Isabela Moner). Later, they find that she has a younger brother and sister who she can’t abandon.
The couple suddenly has three kids on their hands. Pete and Ellie have no idea what they’re in for on both hilarious comedic levels and heartbreaking dramatic ones. They’ll face down skeptical family members and earn the love and trust of the kids. They’ll also encounter numerous misadventures along the way. The film is consistently engaging as both entertainment and a touching call to action for others to open their hearts and adopt more kids from the system.
Catholic movie star Mark Wahlberg delivers a movie that has a pro-life spirit
Wahlberg has developed a truly winning persona as a dimwitted but kind-hearted father figure in the two “Daddy’s Home” films and proves the third time with Anders and Morris is the charm here. A devout Catholic who overcame a hardscrabble childhood himself on the streets of Boston, he made this film a passion project and kudos go out to not only him and the writers but to Paramount Pictures for investing in the film as part of its social-justice outreach efforts.
Byrne continues her string of charming and funny roles in such films as “Juliet, Naked” and the two “Neighbors” films with Seth Rogen, bringing a winsome charm to bear that is especially effective when she’s striving to crack the emotional defenses of the three children. But the real discovery is Moner as Lizzy, displaying a vibrantly real emotional range that signals she could be a big star and major talent to watch.
Backed by an ace supporting cast of Oscar nominee Spencer (“The Help”) as well as top comics Notaro and Iliza Schlesinger as a single mom comically obsessed with adopting an athletic African-American boy, the film has depth in casting that goes well beyond most such films.
Put it all together and this is a family film that adults can enjoy as well, a film that can not only produce solid laughs but possibly even save lives.
Carl Kozlowski is a Catholic comedian, film reviewer, and journalist who is also the founder and co-owner of the podcast station www.radiotitans.com in Los Angeles. He reviews movies for the Catholic News Agency as well as the Christian site Movieguide.org, but has also worked with secular outlets including the Pasadena Weekly, Chicago Tribune and Esquire. He has also produced and hosted comedy shows for the LA Catholic Archdiocese's charities and performed at some of the nation's top clubs and with top comics including Dane Cook and Dave Chappelle. He strives to find the way to work with both Christian and secular audiences in all his career paths.