Appreciating a movie is all about acquiring the proper expectations before the room goes dark and the previews begin.
Case In Point: Sean Anders' new film, Instant Family, a simple tale with a provocative subject matter, which is adoption and the hardships that come with it.
Paul and Ellie Wagner (Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne) are a happily married couple who fix up and flip houses together, but feel like their life is missing something. When Ally starts browsing an adoption agency page, the itch to add to their family turns out to be irresistible. However, when three siblings (Isabella Moner, Julianna Gamiz, Gustavo Quiroz) with untamed personalities and a rough upbringing come into their life suddenly, things get interesting and chaotic very fast.
If one goes into this film expecting a world-changing narrative with authentic characters and crackling dialogue, they will be disappointed. However, if you go in wanting a warm film about the powerful effect that family can have on not only an orphan but the adults who take them in, you will be pleased.
Instant Family is the film you take your grandmother, mother, aunt, and older sister to. The Thanksgiving release date is a wise placement for an easygoing tale that doesn't try to be more than its plot, trailer, and overall look promised.
Wahlberg isn't going to grab an Oscar nomination for his work here. I wouldn't go so far to say the actor cashed a paycheck like he did in the Transformers films, but he doesn't have to stretch too much to perfect a dad feeling like his life is missing something.
Byrne is a gifted comic actress (Bridesmaids, Spy, Neighbors) who really settles into these roles well and makes something out of them. It's like handing a great chef a bag full of Aldi's groceries, and watching them turn it into a solid meal. Whether it's unleashing a rant about the trials and tribulations of parenthood or defending her needs to a room full of family members, the British actress knows how to make you laugh and feel a little something.
Moner, who worked with Wahlberg in Transformers: The Last Knight last year, fares the best out of the kids. Lizzie is the oldest of the siblings, which makes her the toughest to love and hardest to adapt to a new environment. She tests the patience of Paul and Ellie, and it never feels tacked on or melodramatic. If you grew up in a house of drugs and tragedy, things would look different from your point of view than a hard-working yet entitled adult woman. Moner has something and crafts a decent performance from a smaller supporting role. Expect to see her around in more films here soon.
I like how Anders employed comedians for supporting roles here, with Tig Notaro and Tom Segura each creating laughs in simplistic roles. Octavia Spencer is always a good idea for a strong-willed woman, and she gets a few good scenes here as a brutally honest worker at the adoption agency.
The cast is what turns Instant Family into a desirable experience. Without them, the movie is a midnight Netflix selection you pick to catch 15-20 minutes of before falling asleep and forgetting it ever existed. The edge that Anders and screenwriter John Morris apply to the dialogue is a nice touch, creating more believable conversation and making the jokes actually sting.
One must remember this is a personal film for Anders, who adopted kids in real life. The title of the film comes from the real life organization that helps kids find homes. You can feel the emotional connection he has to the material in the third act that may not have come from another director. The small things like this one make this a good choice at the movies. The honesty in how Paul and Ellie handle the new responsibilities and have seconds thoughts or Lizzie being reluctant to change her life comes from Anders being around this world for a long time. The familiarity can be felt off the screen.
While it's not going to change the way you look at comedies about important topics, Instant Family is a nice movie for the whole family. It comes and goes easily, makes you laugh, and is suitable for the whole family.
Consider it that slice of pumpkin pie with extra whipped cream thrown on top. Good for just the holiday season.