Instant Family is the newest film teaming the pair of writer-director Sean Anders and star Mark Wahlberg (Daddy’s Home and its sequel, Daddy’s Home 2). This movie stars Wahlberg and Rose Byrne as a couple who find themselves over their heads when they take in three children as foster parents.
On one hand, this is a cutesy, (mostly) family-friendly film with quite a few positive messages. There are a few laughs to be had, a few tears to run, and a few moments in which your heart will feel warm and fuzzy. On the other hand, it’s a largely manipulative and reinforces multiple stereotypes.
Is that a bad thing? Well, not necessarily. It does its job and is sure to land with its target audience quite well. It’s also a rather enjoyable watch. However, one cannot help but watch and be frustrated by the way in which the movie seems to acknowledge and accept stereotypes without much thought.
Granted, the film does poke fun at itself in a few spots. There are conversations in which the characters discuss the implications of being “white savior” adoptive parents or “The Blind Side” adoptive parents. However, multiple other stereotypes fly under the radar. Why does the Latina teenager have to be drawn to bad boys? Why is the same-sex couple comprised of one flamboyant partner and one lethargic partner? These are just a few of the issues that came to mind.
The movie is also rather long. Clocking in at just under two hours, it could have spared to be more compact. There are some scenes, especially towards the beginning, that could have been cut. The film becomes significantly more interesting when the children actually become involved, so some of the scenes that didn’t involve them may have been better off left out.
That being said, it’s hard not to connect with the characters emotionally. Over the course of the story, they are effectively (albeit formulaically) built in ways that easily elicit sympathy from the audience. They are likable and you root for the characters. While the movie does praise people who adopt or act as foster parents, it makes sure to show that they aren’t all absolute “saints”.
Obviously, the film pretty closely adheres to the formula of the family comedy, but it’s a compelling story nonetheless. The movie also has a lot of cross-generational and cross-cultural appeal. It has broad appeal to family audiences, but will land especially well with parents who have adopted kids themselves.
The execution isn’t anything special, but it’s a studio comedy, so that is understandable. However, the editing is frustrating at times, with sudden uses of amateurish transitions. The actors all do a decent job in their roles. Both Wahlberg and Byrne seem like they were legitimately enjoying themselves. The highlight of the movie is famous character actress Margo Martindale (BoJack Horseman fans, anyone?), whose turn gets a lot of laughs. Octavia Spencer feels wasted in her role, though, with far too little screen time.
Overall, despite a formulaic plot and an abundance of stereotypes, Instant Family still manages to be an enjoyable and heartwarming watch. It is a solid pick for a family (or adopted family) outing this holiday season.
Instant Family opens in theaters October 16.