If there was a film which proves the old adage never judge a book by its cover, Instant Family would be the prime example of it. Marketed as yet another “feel good comedy” with a family twist, the film has surprisingly turned out to have so much more depth and humanity than anyone would have imagined.
Directed by Hot Tub Time Machine writer Sean Anders, Instant Family not so much as redefines the family comedy, but it does the next best thing, it makes its audience care deeply and root for its protagonists in a way which is very rarely achieved within this particular genre.
Rose Byrne and Mark Wahlberg are Ellie and Pete, a hard working couple who despite having been together for some time find that they might have left it too late to have children of their own. Hilarity and much soul-searching ensues when our hapless duo decide to take the bull by the horn and enroll in a foster parenting course with the possibility of adopting at a later date. Encouraged by Karen (Octavia Spencer) and Sharon (Tig Notaro) two social workers from the course, Pete and Ellie soon find themselves in charge of not one, but three fully grown kids from the same family.
After the initial honeymoon period and excitement over their new status, Pete and Ellie soon find that the novelty is beginning to wear-off pretty fast when Lizzy (Isabela Moner), the older sibling of their new charges, turns out to be a deeply manipulative rebellious teenager who makes it almost impossible for them to bond with her younger siblings Lita (Julianna Gamiz) and Juan (Gustavo Quiroz). Lessons are learnt and bonds are formed when a new developments force both parents and children to reevaluate their relationships with one another.
Anders and co-writer John Morris offer a slightly contrived, yet deeply touching film which is decidedly more watchable than it has any right to be. Furthermore, the film does a decent job of broaching the important subject of fostering older kids with a great deal of subtly and tenderness without ever falling into the worthy or needlessly melodramatic. Instant Family isn’t just heartening, it is also funny and engaging throughout, something I for one didn’t expect to be writing if I’m being completely honest.
Byrne and Wahlberg make for an inspired casting and are just the right age for their characters. However, it is Isabela Moner who impresses the most as teen rebel Lizzy, and something tells me this isn’t the last we’ve heard from her.
Elsewhere, Tig Notaro and Octavia Spencer bring much hilarity to the proceedings as the chalk and cheese comedy double act who help Pete and Ellie along the way, while both Julianna Gamiz and Gustavo Quiroz shine as the rowdy younger children.
Instant Family is a return to form for Sean Anders who looked like he might have lost his way after the success of his critically acclaimed Hot Tub Time Machine screenplay which was then followed by the instantly forgettable Daddy’s Home mini franchise. All in all a wholesome movie which is careful to never go down the moralising root. Surprisingly moving.
Instant Family is in cinemas from February 14.