Saturday 23 March 2019

'Instant Family' movie review: 'Feel good movie for everyone is staggeringly and shockingly good'

4 stars

Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne in Instant Family
Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne in Instant Family

Chris Wasser

A feel-good movie for everyone. That’s the actual tagline for the new Mark Wahlberg film. Now, the last time I checked, Marky Mark wasn’t in the business of making feel-good movies for anyone. He’s a good actor, is Marky Mark — but he can be a difficult fella to warm to.

He doesn’t always make the right choices. Quite often, Marky Mark gives us the wrong shade of muscle-man charm and, well, it all becomes rather awkward. Have you seen Daddy’s Home, and its decrepit follow-up, Daddy’s Home 2? Yeah, they didn’t sit well with me, either.

Speaking of which, Instant Family, the new feel-good Marky Mark movie for everyone, was directed and co-written by Sean Anders, the man responsible for the Daddy’s Home disasters. Yep, I’m worried, too. So, you’ll be glad to know that I’m here to cut through the bull. I’m here to report that you may just need a lie-down after Instant Family. Why? Because it is staggeringly and shockingly good. No, really.

Our story begins when happily-married Pete (Mark Wahlberg) and Ellie (the excellent Rose Byrne) decide that they want kids. They never used to.

They were perfectly content going about their working lives as a pair of home renovators, pouring all of their attention into purchasing run-down properties, fixing them up, selling them on and living the good life off of the profits. But, after one too many jokes from family members, Ellie realises that something is missing. Pete, too.

Eventually, they begin to think about adopting. One thing leads to another, and Pete and Ellie enrol in a foster parents course where, with the help of Octavia Spencer and Tig Notaro’s enthusiastic social workers, Karen and Sharon, they will figure out once and for all if they have what it takes to become adoptive parents.

One day, at a ‘foster fair’, where hopeful parents are given the chance to meet with kids in need of a home, Pete and Ellie run into Lizzy (Isabel Moner), a smart-ass 15-year-old who leaves a mark on our protagonists.

Lizzy’s mother is a recovering drug addict, who is currently serving time. She has a younger brother, Juan, and a sister, Lita. If Pete and Ellie are to welcome Lizzy into their home, they also have to take in her siblings.

It’s a massive undertaking — and Pete and Ellie have their concerns, but eventually, they decide to go with it. Thus begins the ‘instant family’ part of Anders’ film, in which everyone involved discovers just how tricky it is to raise a young family.

Now, this doesn’t exactly sound like a recipe for a decent, hard-working dramedy. I imagine there are a hundred and one films just like this, waiting to be discovered on the True Movies Channel.

But there is a difference here. There is a spark. There is something at play that separates Instant Family from its corny, careless counterparts.

Inspired by the director’s personal experiences, Anders and his writing partner, John Morris, have decided to bypass their usual brand of cheap and crass humour for a more sincere, charming and heartfelt approach to proceedings.

Yes, Instant Family is a comedy and, as a result, has a duty to locate laughter in the most awkward of places. But it’s also interested in exploring the real-life complexities and challenges of foster care.

Fortunately, Anders and his team have struck a lovely, winning balance. Instant Family is as moving as it is hilarious. It’s polished and sentimental, for sure, but its intentions are pure, and the tone is about as perfect as you could hope for. What’s more, our star performers remain invested, engaged and compassionate throughout.

Notaro and Spencer make for a wonderful comic pairing. The kids — not least, the talented Isabela Moner — are terrific. The always reliable Rose Byrne, whose dramatic chops are as sharp as her comedic abilities, is especially strong.

And then there’s Mark Wahlberg’s Pete, the befuddled jock with a heart, who turns out to be quite good at this daddy business. Wahlberg’s comic timing is exceptional, and Byrne — the perfect sparring partner — brings out the best in him.

It’s a very well-acted display, and you know something else? It’s far better than we had any right to expect. A feel-good movie for everyone? Oh, go on, then.

Also releasing this week: 'A Private War' movie review: 'Rosamund Pike is excellent as renowned journalist Marie Colvin in a film that doesn’t quite work'

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