FILM REVIEW: “Instant Family” is some Solid Summer Afternoon Fare
Based off writer and director Sean Anders’ experiences in the turbulent world of adoption, Instant Family is a solid combination of not-completely sugary sentimentality and not-entirely edgeless humour, despite the PG rating.
The film isn’t exactly exceptional or even that memorable, but it chugs along entertainingly enough. Mark Whalberg and Rose Byrne bring an appealing, slightly ditzy, middle-class charm as new foster parents, Pete and Ellie, while young actress Isabela Moner gives a scene-stealing turn as their adoptive daughter, alongside her other two siblings.
Pete and Ellie are hip to the fact that a white bread couple adopting three Latinx children looks corny. ‘Relax,’ Instant Family tells us, ‘we’re not going down the white saviour route here’. And a little self-awareness goes a long way in this case. Octavia Spencer and Tig Notaro, meanwhile, act as the lead couple’s wearied guides into the world of adoption, providing some of the strongest, wittiest lines along with some truly sad insights. They’re an appealing comedy duo whose extraordinarily different energies produce a welcome dose of friction.
Instant Family features exquisite moments of painful reality amidst its broad and goofy montages. These moments, occupying a strange nexus between slapstick, absurdity and tragedy, surprisingly don’t succumb to the usual manufactured earnestness of these kinds of movies. Nor are they contrived to spice up the drama. They simply feel like the ordinary struggles of hilariously unprepared adults raising three tight-knit siblings who have grown up in a world that’s often turned its back on them.
This is what sets Instant Family apart from the usual slew of brightly lit, tepid family comedies (some of which Anders himself has been responsible for): there is some grit and guts here. This movie isn’t afraid to tease the real possibility that this family experiment will end badly for everyone.
I’m not saying that this is some two and a half-hour arthouse angst fest which deconstructs the meaning of family and forces us to take a long hard look at the adoption system. But it’s a movie that seems to care more than I thought it would. It’s a good try. And it’s a yes from me. Instant Family is a pleasant and unexpectedly fulfilling time at the movies indeed.
3.5 Stars out of 5