For the love of God, please don’t suck!
The story looks like it’s about a married couple who adopt a trio of siblings and things aren’t smooth sailings.
Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Rose Byrne (JULIET, NAKED , THE MEDDLER , SPY , X-MEN: FIRST CLASS , STAR WARS: CLONES , and the upcoming LIMITED PARTNERS ), Mark Wahlberg (MILE 22 , ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD , DEEPWATER HORIZON , and TED 2 ), Isabela Moner (SICARIO 2 , NUT JOB 2 , and MIDDLE SCHOOL ), Gustavo Quiroz (PEPPERMINT ), and Julianna Gamiz (stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of).
In support, we have Joan Cusack (SNATCHED , POPSTAR , END OF THE TOUR , and TOY STORY 2 , 3 , and upcoming films TOY STORY 4  and KLAUS ), Octavia Spencer (SHAPE OF WATER , ZOOTOPIA , and upcoming films LUCE  and THE VOYAGE OF DOCTOR DOLITTLE ), Tig Notaro (DOG DAYS , and the upcoming MUSIC ), Iliza Shlesinger (stuff I’ve either never seen or heard of), and Margo Martindale (TABLE 19 , THE HOLLARS , and the upcoming THE KITCHEN ).
Now for the crew. Directing and co-writing, we have Sean Anders, known for DADDY’S HOME (2015) and 2 (2017). Anders’ partner-in-pen is John Morris, known for DADDY’S HOME and DADDY’S HOME 2. Composing the score is Michael Andrews, known for I FEEL PRETTY (2018), THE BIG SICK (2017), NEIGHBORS 2 (2016), and upcoming films SECOND ACT (2018) and HEADLOCK (2019). The cinematographer is Brett Pawlak, known for LIFE ITSELF (2018), THE GLASS CASTLE (2017), MAX STEEL (2016), and the upcoming JUST MERCY (2020). Finally, the editor is Brad Wilhite, known for DADDY’S HOME and DADDY’S HOME 2.
Overall, I am unbelievably nervous about this. As someone who was adopted, I’m instantly lured into stories like this. For the most part, I’ve not seen a bad adoption movie, but after last year’s FATHER FIGURES (2017), I’m not leaving anything up to chance. On the one hand, this movie has me going more than it doesn’t. In fact, there’s only a couple jokes that seem subpar. I found myself laughing. But… for piss-sake, this is being made by the same guy who did the Daddy’s Home movies! A double whammy of films that have made their way in my worst films of their respective years lists! God damn it… and Anders was apparently adopted himself! This movie has ZERO excuses to be bad. This better be the man’s magnum opus as far as comedies are concerned. Guys, I really want this to be good. I love the talent involved and I have a personal connection to the subject matter. If it’s not good, I’m going to lose my shit.
This is my honest opinion of: INSTANT FAMILY
Ellie (Rose Byrne) and Pete (Mark Wahlberg) are mostly happily married. Now that they have no more distractions from starting up a family, a quick search online inspires them to adopt. They go through the foster training and eventually pick an unorthodox choice: the attitude-prone teenager, Lizzy (Isabela Moner), who comes with two younger siblings, the younger brother Juan (Gustavo Quiroz) and the youngest sister Lita (Julianna Gamiz). What starts off as pretty easygoing soon turns into the hard work of being patient and learning to understand them.
Oh thank God, it doesn’t suck. It’s certainly… not great, but it’s… good… enough. You can probably tell that I’m mixed about it. It’s because I am. On the one hand, the Daddy’s Home humor occasionally takes center stage, and if you know me really well, you know that I absolutely despise these movies. Both have made my Bottom 10 lists of their respective years. Point is, that God-awful humor is present in this movie. With that said, there’s also genuine heart and more than a few laughs. It’s so strange to see a movie do a complete fifty-fifty in terms of quality humor and legit drama. I won’t lie, I cried a little… I think. Maybe I just got choked up. Either way, that’s an important reaction to have when making a movie like this.
One of the most prominent touch-and-go aspects of this movie were the characters, Pete and Ellie. I think I understand how these characters were supposed to be written. They’re supposed to be dorks. Endearing morons. They say something that sounds smart and enlightened, but really, they have no idea what they’re doing. They always do or say the wrong thing, aren’t always aware of their insensitivity, but when they realize they’ve made a mistake, they’re quick to acknowledge it, they learn from it, and they get better for it. I won’t lie, I do get that some of the time. You know what? I take that back. I get that most of the time. Pete and Ellie are mostly endearing. But every so often… one or both of them get right up on my nerves. There’s a scene before Pete and Ellie go through the foster training and Pete just would not shut the hell up about “rescue kids” and comparing them to “rescue dogs” or whatever the hell he was saying. Not quite so heinous, obviously, but the fact was that he was talking a million miles a minute saying stupid shit that wasn’t smart, or even funny. I’m sure that’s the idea of the characters, but there has to be a line that they don’t cross. Fast talkers aren’t funny because they talk fast. But then turn right around and the next scene kind of yanks at my heartstrings and I stop caring for a bit. This is something of the formula in the movie and it bugs me as much as it compels me.
Speaking of compulsion. So what I typically do when I go to the cinemas is bring something to take notes with. I always hope to use my laptop and sit in the back row so’s not to disturb anyone, or a notepad should that not be possible. For most movies, I’m taking notes constantly, but if I have bouts where I am just lost in the movie and forget to take notes, that’s a huge plus in my book. Literally and figuratively. That is most definitely the case here. I have had multiple lengths of time where I wasn’t taking notes and just wanted to watch the movie. So kudos for that.
But let’s get to the performances. With some exceptions, which I’ll get to later, the performances are actually pretty damn good. In fact, they’re so good, I’m going to accept this as an apology from both Wahlburg and Moner for TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT. Apology accepted. Moner especially was given a damn good role. Lizzy is a complex young woman who almost is written like a stereotypical moody teenager. However, her background does sort of explain it, being put through the foster care system and being saddled with some crappy foster parents before meeting Pete and Ellie. She’s not without her softer side, as her loyalty and fierce protection of Juan and Lita is constantly present. She even makes attempts to help keep them in order when Lita starts throwing tantrums and Juan starts hyperventilating. Even her frustrations with Pete and Ellie are justified when they don’t accept her knowledge when it comes to her younger siblings. Sadly, she does kind of act all angsty, but as the story progresses, you come to understand why she is the way she is.
Oh, and did y’all know that Iliza Shlesinger is in this movie? No? Well she is! That makes two stand-up comedians that make their way into the movie, the other being Tig Notaro. I can’t say that I am a huge fan of theirs, but I’ve seen all of Shlesinger’s stand-ups on Netflix and Notaro’s one also on there, and I have to say that I really enjoy what I saw. Here, Shlesinger is more or less a bit character, but Notaro has a supporting role. Honestly, I love both of them and they consistently made me laugh. However, Notaro in particular was fantastic. She had the perfect blend of comedy and drama. When a scene called for a laugh, she nailed it. When a scene called for drama, my heart-strings were yanked on. This almost makes too much sense, as Notaro actually adopted a pair of twin boys, so I wouldn’t be surprised to know that she did a little bit of creative consulting on the project. I really enjoy the visuals during training the hopeful-parents, with the cutting of the strings, which… is admittedly the only thing I remember about those moments… and Shlesinger throwing a football at a kid. Amazing performances.
Is adoption really stigmatized? Like, at all? Because there are characters in this movie that seem to think that adoption is some kind of chore or curse. Right, because blame the kids for having parents that couldn’t take care of them. Blame the teenagers whose parents made them feel like they weren’t wanted. What bullshit is that?! Actually, if you do your research, adoption is stigmatized. Maybe not by the mass majority, but I was floored by how many parents who adopt face ignorant people who have something to say about something they don’t understand. I watched these scenes play out in the movie and I was legitimately angry that this movie would have the audacity to make adoption seem like it was a negative. Turns out, ignorance goes both ways. As an adopted kid myself, I assumed that adoption was simply another form of building a family and that people never thought twice about it. I’m wrong on both accounts. Personal decisions that a person makes or people make always seem to have a habit of drawing the attention of those who have to voice their opinion where it’s not their business. So my hatred of Kim (Allyn Rachel) and her husband is, more or less, something that people who adopt really go through. It’s an immersive hate.
But let’s talk about the legit problems that I have with this movie.
There is a special of kind of crap when your movie make OCTAVIA SPENCER the worst part of the movie. You’re reading that right. Spencer as Karen is one of the more unbearable elements of the flick. Karen is basically a more intense version of Wahlburg’s unfunny dialog, making some of the most inappropriate jokes of the movie. Despite Notaro’s Sharon constant telling her to dial it down, acknowledging the bad jokes, while a step up for the two writers of the movie itself, does not suddenly make the writing funny. Of course I don’t blame Spencer for this, she’s just reading a script, but… seriously, screw this movie for making her not good. SHE’S AN ACADEMY AWARD WINNER, FOR GOD’S SAKE!!!
I wish both Lita and Juan had more development. With Lizzy, we learn why she acts out the way that she does. But with Lita and Juan, we really don’t. Lita throws tantrums when she doesn’t get potato chips, and Juan is constantly under this impression that he has to apologize for everything wrong that happens, from the small to the big things. Thing is… I’m pretty sure these are typical child behaviors. It’s certainly implied that it’s more extreme than that, but we never learn why they’re that way. If I were to explain it away, Lita is the baby of the siblings, so the mom probably doted on her a lot more than the other two, giving Lita anything and everything she wanted, and the girl developed a dependency on chips. Now that she’s no longer with the source of her habits, she acts out when she doesn’t get her way, not truly acknowledging that she’s in a different environment. For Juan, I would say that he was abused in some way. Not physically, but verbally. Because he’s clumsy and has a fabulous knack of knocking things over, maybe the mom was paranoid about his quirks that she yelled and berated him for everything, and in his panic, he always apologizes for everything. However, that’s just what I picture, not what’s explained or shown.
I understand that this is a comedy, but as I’ve previously stated, the Daddy’s Home humor seeps in from time to time. A prime example of this is when Pete, Ellie, and the kids meet the extended family. This… is absolutely painful to watch. You know in certain period films when a white person encounters a black person, and they have no idea how to conduct themselves? Staring at them like that have two heads? Yeah, the extended family acts like that, except they try to be overly nice. It’s fake and almost doesn’t work for the tone of the movie. When the drama is taking hold, it’s dealt with like a drama. When the comedy calls for it, it’s kind of funny. But when the extended family shows up, they’re cartoon characters and it doesn’t work for me. The worst offender is Margo Martindale as Grandma Sandy. Holy shit, this woman would not shut the hell up, or quit butting in on raising the kids. She shows up and just takes over. This is beyond not okay. And that Pete and Ellie just allow themselves to be sidelined in such a way without asserting themselves, as well as being made to look like spineless parents, everything that Martindale is in makes the movie far less easy sit through. Get rid of the scenes with the grandparents and the movie is shorter and flows much easier.
Overall, I really want to love this movie. To be precise, I love most of this movie. It’s important to me that a movie like this get the drama down right and that’s exactly what this movie did. I got emotional. I was invested in the characters. I wanted this movie to have a happy ending. Not that an upbeat comedy would ever go a darker route, but I hope you all understand my meaning. To make matters even better, this movie is considerate enough to plug in adoption pictures and information on where you can look up adoption. While I don’t expect most movies regarding adoption to do this, I will always appreciate this gesture. But this makes it so much more frustrating when the movie’s comedy is both insensitive and painful. This is obviously not all of the film’s comedy, but when it’s bad, it’s really bad.
My honest rating for INSTANT FAMILY: my first-ever weak 4/5
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