‘Instant Family’ is about Pete (Wahlberg) and Ellie (Byrne) who want a family but aren’t exactly young. They’ve both had a lot of fun and experience in their lives, lives they’ve lived very well mind you, and have a lot to offer. They have a great business and a beautiful home but look around one day and realize they have no one to share it with. With this acknowledgment, they’re suddenly struck with an idea. At their age, instead of having a baby, they decide to adopt. This is also the true tale of where the narrative was born.
The film is an important take on children, both young and old, in the country’s foster system. I applaud its good intentions but it’s full of contrived jokes that feel labored rather than spontaneous. I do like the story behind the story as much as I enjoyed watching what foster parents Pete and Ellie felt compelled to do but the movie was somewhat excessive at times.
Based on their own experiences with adoption writers Sean Anders and John Morris want you to know the truth of things. They want you to see that teenagers are neglected by people looking to adopt. Unfortunately, more often than not, this leads to building resentments. Their attitudes grow bitter and a teenager in the system will find it harder to be placed somewhere they can call home.
This effort is more than admirable. Nonetheless, Anders and Morris went overboard and stuffed everything they went through or witnessed into one film. The movie is respectable, but this wasn’t necessary for the audience to pick up on their message, leading to it being a lot to take in at times. Another miscalculation from the team was slapping into the script pranks and antics to force the comedic side of awkward moments with their new family. The sillier things became made genuine moments feel phony.
Pete and Ellie adopt a teenager, Lizzie (Moner), who comes with two young siblings named Lita and Juan. Lizzie is your typical angst-filled fifteen-year-old but put in this position has taken on the role of mama bear to the younger cubs. Shifting from home to home, with bags full of ‘court bears,’ she doesn’t believe, or is incapable of believing, she’ll ever be loved. She likes Pete and Ellie, sees how lucky she is, but has been disappointed before. Lizzie has been hurt so often that she won’t allow Lita and Juan to go through it, too, so she creates barriers in the guise of being helpful… at first. Then she drops the charm. When she shows her guarded side, Pete and Ellie almost give up but, coming to terms with the fact that being parents isn’t easy, they resist the urge to send the children back.
Sadly, they have the added pressure of competing with their real mother who shows up when it’s most convenient for her. Of course, you were expecting this to happen, but it is moving when it does. That said, it’s mostly because of Moner’s performance more than anything else. For a brief moment, you see her heart. The biggest highlights of the film come from its smallest moments. At its most basic and what Anders fixates on the least, is when the film is at its best.
You’ll love performances from Octavia Spencer and Tig Notaro as their counselors. Bringing in Margo Martindale and Julie Hagerty as dueling grandmothers was a nice touch, you’ll appreciate. However, Anders goes too far with a good thing with adding Joan Cusack’s nosey neighbor. Her character starts out well but ends with you shaking your head. ‘Instant Family’ is ultimately worth watching but paying matinee price is best for you and yours.