Film Review – Instant Family (2019)

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You have got to hand it to Mark Wahlberg. Almost three decades after he and the Funky Bunch had their number one hit with Good Vibrations – a staple of all good parties that one – and a few extra curricular problems, he has become one of the biggest and hardest working actors, and producers, in Hollywood. But in recent years, the Oscar nominated star has found more success in comedy than in his dramatic work, with films such as Patriots Day, Mile 22 and All The Money in the World failing to ignite at the box office, despite critical acclaim (well, not so much Mile 22). His latest effort sees him reteam with his Daddy’s Home director Sean Anders for another family-orientated comedy that is one of the year’s genuine surprises.

Wahlberg and Rose Byrne play husband and wife Pete and Ellie Wagner, a seemingly happy working class couple who have become something of a dynamic duo in the world of flipping houses. One such opportunity presents itself that may make them a lot of money in the long run, but it serves as a reminder that these renovated houses are something of a void filler for the fact they haven’t yet started a family and they join a foster care centre online. Soon enough, after a few weeks of classes and “training”, they attend a foster fair to meet prospective children (Pete notes that in normal circumstances approaching kids in such a way would see them in jail) and happen upon teenager Lizzy (Isabela Moner) who they take a shine too – only, there’s a twist: if they wish to foster her, they have to also take in her younger brother and sister, too. Instant family.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the new comedy from the man behind such films as Horrible Bosses 2, Dumb & Dumber To and the aforementioned Wahlberg-starrers would be lacking in substance and subtlety in a similar vein to those mentioned but co-writer and director Sean Anders has matured it seems, as Instant Family, while not perfect, pulls at the funny bone and the heartstrings in relatively wholesome and charming way.

Isabela Moner, Gustavo Quiroz, Julianna Gamiz, Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne in Instant Family from Paramount Pictures.

It’s hardly the flashiest of films but when it comes together it works like a charm and has a warmth and sincerity that was lacking from other similar stories. It’s not perfect, mind, as the tone of the piece is scattered to say the least, working least of all during the foster care “training” moments which at times border on being offensive and a little cruel, but working at its best when it focuses on the moments between the newly bonded family with some genuinely touching scenes particularly in the final third.

Wahlberg, as ever, is a great sport and relishes the role of “Dad” once again, while Byrne is a solid if slightly underwhelming foil. It’s Moner who is the standout here as the headstrong Lizzy, doing a fantastic job of showing the anger and pain that is symptomatic of a system that fails in the main for teenagers across the globe. Add to that the always superb Octavia Spencer – who should be in every film, let’s make it happen – and the mix is just right to get over the tonal problems of the film as a whole. Hardly groundbreaking but with its heart in the right place, Instant Family is a great little family surprise.

Scott.J.Davis | [rating=3]

Comedy, Drama | USA, 2019 | 12A | 15th February 2019 (UK) | Paramount Pictures | Dir.Sean Anders | Mark Wahlberg, Rose Byrne, Isabela Moner, Octavia Spencer, Tig Notario, Julie Hagerty