There’s a playbook for every genre and family comedies is one genre that uses every play in the playbook. The use of cute shenanigans, non offensive jokes and characters that are depicted safer than by fictional standards. “Instant Family” uses these to its advantage but takes them even further.
Sean Anders is a director whose work is nothing groundbreaking. He has made some of the worst films, Adam Sandler’s “That’s My Boy”, has made two “Daddy’s Home” movies with “Daddy’s Home 2” a much better effort than the first film. His best works, “Horrible Bosses 2” and “Instant Family” which is easily his best work as a filmmaker.
“Instant Family” was inspired by the real events from the life of writer and director Sean Anders. Huge respect to Anders and his wife for taking on such an enormous responsibility and providing a home for three children.
“Instant Family” delivers a heartwarming comedy and poignant drama. I really don’t see how it’s a “family film” as it’s being heavily marketed as. There is a lot of lump in the throat moments by switching up the formula bringing a lot more edge to its humor with an excessive amount of foul language and adult situations.
Anders pushes the boundaries of the PG-13 rating, as in one scene Rose Byrne catches 15 year old Lizzy as she’s about to send naked selfies to a 22 year old guy she has been communicating with. This leads to a series of events featuring graphic language about the 22 year old sending her pictures of his male genitalia, that leads to a very public humiliation of a character who is mistakenly accused. Anders film gets increasingly serious as it goes along, even earning more than a few genuine tears in its finale. “Instant Family” also gets dark hitting big subject matters. Anders understands and illustrates that the foster care and adoption process is an emotionally complicated one for both adults and children. In one shocker of a scene a young teenager who has been through the system discusses her upbringing in a crack house and facing physical and sexual abuse as a child, and her struggles with drug addiction. Hopefully you see my point as to how Anders pushes it to a very hardcore PG-13, but yet never go without forgetting to add the heart.
One of my favorites Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne (“Neighbors”) are effectively cast as the warm hearted and well intentioned couple at the heart of the movie. Both convey a lot of affection for each other and for the kids. The actors both showcase the highs and lows of an adopted family, from the happiness they feel as they bond to the kids, to the threat that their mother could straighten up and reclaim them. The nice touch is that their drug addicted mother isn’t presented as a monster, but rather someone just collapsing under the weight of an addiction problem.
Much of the film centers around Wahlberg and Byrne trying to make headway with the oldest of the three kids. She is a tough teen played by Isabela Moner (“Transformers The Last Knight” and “Sicario Day Of The Soldado”), who channels a young Vanessa Hudgens. She will next be seen in the big screen live action version of “Dora The Explorer”. Her younger siblings will easily win you over. The reality of the relationships and the gradual way they start to bond is the meat of “Instant Family”, which very rarely lapses into slapstick making this a far cry from anything Anders has tried before.
Wahlberg and Byrne are well suited to this material. They share a chemistry that’s undeniable. Their timing and rhythm together works so well that they can sell both the outrageous gags and the smaller moments of emotional strife and victory with great results. They respond with desperation, frustration, anger, self hatred, and always in a way that makes them more likable. They’re matched at every turn by their young cast, especially Moner, who once again proves that she’s one of the most natural and charismatic young actors working today. Moner’s got some razor sharp skills and some impressive naturality in her performances that make her convincing. She’s gone from Nickelodeon to action franchises, drama, and comedy, pulling something engaging and special out of the bag each time. For someone who hasn’t been doing this for that long she’s got it.
It’s clear in his performance that Mark Wahlberg who also produces, considers this one of those projects that he cares about. Not to mention, this is the most likable, sensitive and most balanced, performance we’ve seen from Wahlberg. He is fantastic and delivers a performance that is nuanced and emotional. Even more impressive is the fact that the children, played by Isabelle Moner, Gustavo Quiroz, and Julianna Gamiz feel like actual siblings when they’re together on screen.
The experiences of pain, separation, loneliness, or being treated like a commodity take a heavy toll on a child. The result of those experiences affect the children who want parents, that wind up developing such impenetrable defense mechanisms that they reject affection and love. “Instant Family” goes out of its way to explain all this and then to show them in reality.
Anders doesn’t take the cheap way out and avoids any jokes about pooping or farting but rather gives us jokes that tend to push the envelope a bit. This is the exact kind of film where you’d expect those type of jokes. “Instant Family” doesn’t try to play it safe but it knows what it is and it knows how to appeal to a broader more adult audience than the standard family friendly moviegoers. The film is also filled with sharp and witty dialogue that is genuinely funny because it comes off as natural rather than being scripted.
At its heart “Instant Family’s” message is about unconditional love and embracing family wherever you find it. “Instant Family” comes together because the families problems are believable, and they never give up on each other, even through the tough. “Instant Family” becomes a well intentioned advertisement for the adoption process, complete with a website promoting title card at the end. It’s completely right when it comes to the conclusion that love is always worth the trouble, I sure loved this movie. It is not only the biggest surprise of the year but one that is incredibly important.
★★★★ (4) OUT OF ★★★★★ (5)