director: Sean Anders
cast: Mark Wahlberg, Rose Byrne, Isabela Moner, Margo Martindale, Julie Hagerty, Tig Notaro, Octavia Spencer
Okay, so it’s heart-warming and brings us to tears. And yes, director Sean Anders’ “Instant Family” has three insufferably cute kids, a fluffy dog and enough irate friends and neighbors to make this the right seasonal comedy. As it turns out, it should be. Mark Wahlberg’s latest star vehicle is much more than a dopey gross-out comedy or balls-out action thriller (with guns blazing and big biceps bulging…) and thank goodness for it.
This isn’t a simple, joyful holiday laugh fest or celebration — it grapples with a deadly serious, life-challenging issue — kids in foster care, those orphaned children who are treated like real garbage pail kids. Sadly, many more children are being orphaned globally through war, family disruption and environmental catastrophes. Although the United States has a fairly robust system for coping with these lost children, it’s far from perfect and is riddled with flaws state by state. “Instant Family” addresses this without being preachy or somber but through humor, an honesty, and candor, it truly can raise society’s awareness of this matter.
Based in part on Anders’ own experiences adopting three children with wife Brenda, this movie marks his third collaboration with Wahlberg, following “Daddy’s Home” and its 2017 sequel. It’s also the second film the actor made with Isabela Moner after “Transformers: The Last Knight.”
In this tale, a drug-addicted mother (currently in jail having set their home on fire because she left out a lit crack pipe) lurks in the background. Meanwhile her 15-year-old daughter Lizzy (Moner) and two younger siblings — Juan (Gustavo Quiroz) and Lita (Julianna Gamiz) — struggle to cope in foster care.
Enter Pete (Wahlberg) and Ellie (Rose Byrne) Wagner who decide to fill the void in their lives by having children. For unclear reasons, they turn to adoption (rather than natural birth) and visit a foster care center where two social workers, Karen and Sharon (Tig Notaro and Octavia Spencer) guide the prospective parents into becoming adoptive ones. Of course, the couple falls for the younger kids but realizes they should take the less desirable teen into their home as well.
From there, the laughs and tears ensue, as this incredibly naive couple cope with a very difficult process made even more complicated by tripling the situation. Every possible trauma comes to the fore from eating issues to a pervy adult preying on their new teen daughter. These challenges include sessions with other adoptive parents, school acclimation, grandparent rivalries and everything else one can imagine that conventional parents deal with — all compressed into a six-month trial period before qualifying to be adoptive parents.
“Instant Family” is comedy first and issue-driven drama second, but it effectively strikes such a balance that it rises to significance of the issues it addresses. It creates a significant awareness of such concerns as PTSD, feelings of abandonment and identity challenges.
Though the movie ends up being a feel-good experience, we should all feel bad that the problem of parentless children persists and that some of us prefer to remain unaware of it. As the film expands its circulation, hopefully its audiences will confront the issues it raises — reaching out to support such organizations as Hopeland (http://ourhopeland.org) and Adoption-Share (http://adoption-share.com) for more information.