A ‘cosmic connection’: Instant Family is a feel-good family movie that balances the hardships and horrors of parenthood with moments of humor and heart.
Plot: Pete (Mark Wahlberg) and Ellie (Rose Byrne) are fixer-uppers. They take dusty, rundown houses and turn them into beautiful, livable homes. When they decide to start a family through foster care adoption, they quickly realize that creating a home for themselves isn’t just as easy. Especially when you add a fifteen-year-old rebellious girl and her two younger siblings.
Review: In the first few minutes of the movie, viewers easily warm up to Pete and Ellie as a couple—they are quirky, fun, and disgustingly cute. Wahlberg and Byrne share a great dynamic as onscreen parents. Even in the few scenes they did not share, Pete and Ellie were a constant unit, which was felt throughout the entire film.
As we follow them into the world of foster care adoption, we get snippets of how the system works. Serious topics like drug and sexual abuse are touched upon; however the movie takes on a more light-hearted approach by way of humor.
The social workers Karen (Octavia Spencer) and Sharon (Tig Notaro), are particularly entertaining to watch. With their hilarious banter and unwavering support for the families, Karen and Sharon are like the type of parents you never knew you needed; they are in the front row, standing, cheering you on until you make it. Even more surprising were the other foster parents in Pete and Ellie’s foster support group. Again, we only get tidbits of everyone’s parental experiences, but it was quite touching and for the most part hilarious.
Arguably, the heart of this film is Lizzy—the stubborn fifteen-year-old with a fierceness that practically spills through the screen. Played by actress/singer Isabela Moner, Lizzy is the wild card in Pete and Ellie’s otherwise picture-perfect family. She cares deeply for her siblings Juan and Lita, but that protectiveness ends there. She is guarded and distant and refuses to take part in Pete and Ellie’s idea of ‘family’. Moner’s portrayal of Lizzy is incredibly effortless and genuine. Through Lizzy’s silence and subtle facial expressions, you can tell that she isn’t just some stubborn teenager with an attitude problem, nor is she a damaged kid ruined by the system. We see that—as Pete and Ellie do—gradually and naturally, as they become a real family.
Director Sean Anders does an excellent job showing what it means to be a family. Family isn’t just blood—it’s connection. It’s shared moments of laughter and heartbreak that make you feel like you are a part of something more than yourself; Instant Family achieves this by creating a genuine connection with the story and its characters.