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Instant Family (Mark Wahlberg/Rose Byrne) - DVD Review

Instant Family

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

IN MANY ways, Sean Anders’ Instant Family is as dysfunctional as the family it depicts. But then that’s kind of the point.

Inspired by the writer-director’s own experience of fostering three children with his wife, the film follows a 40-something couple named Pete and Ellie (played by Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne), who decide to foster themselves, only to find things turning out more complicated than they imagined.

Their new, ‘instant’ family is headed by smart but rebellious teenager Lizzy (Isabela Moner), as well as her younger brother and sister (the former accident-prone, the latter liable to fits of rage). But with the help of their case workers (Octavia Spencer and Tig Notaro) and their respective mothers (Margo Martindale and Julie Hagerty), they attempt to navigate a way through the problems.

Given Anders track record for wretched, family-based comedies (the Daddy’s Home series and Adam Sandler’s That’s My Boy), you could be forgiven for thinking this isn’t worth approaching whatsoever, given the huge margin for error.

But perhaps because it is drawn more from personal experience, Instant Family is actually one of the most endearing, heartfelt and downright funny yet simultaneously moving comedy-dramas I have seen in a long time.

Anders quite often subverts expectations, even in small ways. Hence, a simple scene in which Byrne’s mother appears to be bonding with teenager Lizzy over hair-brushing quickly takes a darker, more sombre turn as Lizzy begins to battle the tears – not because of happiness, but because of the memories it evokes of her real mother (a drug addict in rehab following prison). The bonding doesn’t quite work out the way either expect.

Indeed, there are several points at which Anders’ screenplay seems to suggest a success for the parents, only to have the rug pulled out from under them.

And it’s socially aware, too, almost pre-empting some of the more obvious criticisms that could have been levelled upon it. The fact that the fostered family is Latino-based, thereby suggesting a white saviour scenario, is amusingly tackled in an Avatar-based conversation.

While there are even razor-sharp insights into the dangers of parenting in the digital era, with ‘sexting’ and feminism addressed in observant, yet mostly comedic ways.

That’s not to say everything is perfect. Far from it. Sometimes, jokes land with a thud because they arrive too quickly in the wake of something dramatic, while several of the songs (one of which sets up a bonding montage, another that signals a really sad moment) feel manipulative and therefore contrived.

There is bucket loads of schmaltz, too, while some of the early complexity is tossed aside for a fairly Hollywood ending.

But thanks to the winning performances of its game cast (everyone is excellent) and the mostly expert ways in which this juggles the comedy with some high moments of drama, Instant Family is a really pleasant surprise that earns the laughs and – yes – the tears it’ll undoubtedly induce, for any parent watching.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 2hrs
UK Blu-ray & DVD Release: June 10, 2019