Heartwarming and hilarious.
Instant Family is not the first time Mark Wahlberg and director/co-writer Sean Anders have worked together, and it’s a case of third time’s a charm. It’s another family comedy after their teaming up on Daddy’s Home and Daddy’s Home 2, but this managed to achieve what the others only flirted with, and that’s offering humanity as well as humor – and neither is present at the expense of the other.
Pete, played by Wahlberg, and Ellie, played by Rose Byrne, are a couple who decide they want to start a family, However, rather than making a baby themselves, they stumble into the world of foster care adoption. They’re looking to take on one child but meet three siblings, including a rebellious 15-year-old girl, played by Isabela Moner. As you might expect, all bets are off.
Instant Family is inspired by real events from the life of writer/director Sean Anders, and that’s probably a significant factor in why this works so effortlessly. While Wahlberg and Anders’ rhythms are already synched, as well as Moner to an extent as she starred in Transformers: The Last Knight with Wahlberg, there’s a lot here that could come off as twee and hackneyed if it had been mishandled. We know Wahlberg and Byrne can do comedy, and they bring their usual solid game again, but it’s actually Moner who really is the gold in the hills here.
Moner’s got some razor sharp skills and some impressive nuances and naturality in her performances that make her utterly convincing ensuring she pops whenever she’s on screen. In the last few years, she’s gone from Nickelodeon to big money action franchises, drama, and comedy, pulling something engaging out of the bag each time like it isn’t a big deal. For someone who hasn’t been doing this for that long at all, whatever ‘it’ is, she’s got it.
Also, whoever came up with the idea of casting Octavia Spencer and Tig Notaro as two of the social workers that guide the parents-to-be through the foster care process deserves a raise. Together they are absolute dynamite, and they provide Instant Family with some of its biggest laughs and brightest moments. If someone cast them together in a buddy comedy, I’d be first in line to see it.
Obviously, because it’s a studio comedy about family, but Instant Family isn’t just a stream of slapstick or dramatic set pieces stuck together with a sugary narrative and life lessons – some of those are in there but it’s greater than the sum of its parts.
While Wahlberg can sometimes come off as a touch mechanical or trying to pull of crowd-pleasing by-the-numbers performance in comedic roles, here, he seems more at ease and relaxed. Maybe it’s the aforementioned chemistry, or perhaps this is one of those projects he especially cares about for personal reasons, but it seems like this is one of his cinematic happy places.
Instant Family is instantly gratifying even if, some time later, you might not remember a lot about what you laughed so hard at, but the heart of the movie, the emotional journey and narrative around fostering and adoption will stick like glue.