Director: Sean Anders
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Rose Byrne, Isabela Moner
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“From the director of Daddy’s Home 2 and Horrible Bosses 2” might not be a phrase that inspires a great deal of excitement, but Sean Anders’ latest release is a surprisingly heartfelt effort that is genuinely funny and moving. Based on his own experiences adopting a family, Instant Family follows Pete (Wahlberg) and Ellie (Byrne), a happy and successful married couple who, seemingly on a whim, decide to adopt. After they are convinced to take in teenager Lizzy (Moner) and her two younger siblings, Juan (Gustavo Quiroz) and Lita (Julianna Gamiz), the pair soon realise that providing bunk beds and Christmas presents isn’t going to be enough to give the children the home they need.
Instant Family treads a predictable path. If you have seen any family comedy, you’ll be able to work out exactly what is going to happen next with minimal difficulty. But it walks the predictable path with so much confidence and charm that it’s hard to care that you’ve seen many versions of this story play out before, because rarely have they played out so well. Mark Wahlberg is as solid and likeable as ever in the good cop/cool father figure and has great chemistry with Rose Byrne. But it’s the scenes between Byrne and Isabela Moner that stand out, as perfectionist Ellie tries desperately to build a mother-daughter relationship with the rebellious and closed off Lizzy. Moner is excellent as Lizzy and is a name to watch out for, managing to test the limits of just how much she can get away with while keeping the audience onside, and handling the heavier, emotional moments with a grace reminiscent of somebody who has been in the industry far longer than she has.
Anders doesn’t shy away from showing the low moments of Pete and Ellie’s journey, including a whispered bedtime conversation where they consider giving the children back and visitations with the kids’ birth mother, but these are nothing compared to the high points – such as the first time they get called “mum” and “dad”. There are a few missteps – some of the characters at the adoption support group are a bit too larger than life and Joan Cusack is wasted in a role that seems to serve no purpose other than to set up a joke about pie with Octavia Spencer – but Instant Family has so much heart you can look past that. Just as likely to make you cry as it is to make you laugh, Instant Family is one of the standout comedies of the year.