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Instant Family Movie Review

Instant Family (2018) movie poster Instant Family

Theatrical Release: November 16, 2018 / Running Time: 118 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Sean Anders / Writers: Sean Anders, John Morris

Cast: Mark Wahlberg (Pete), Rose Byrne (Ellie), Octavia Spencer (Karen), Isabela Moner (Lizzy), Tig Notaro (Sharon), Margo Martindale (Grandma Sandy), Julianna Gamiz (Lita), Gustavo Quiroz (Juan), Eve Harlow (Brenda Fernandez), Julie Hagerty (Jan), Michael O'Keefe (Jerry), Iliza Shlesinger (October), Carson Holmes (Charlie), Nicholas Logan (Jacob), Joan Cusack (Mrs. Howard)


They say truth is stranger than fiction. What they don't say is truth is funnier than fiction. There is a long list of great comedies that are inspired by the actual experiences of their makers. Look no further than last year's Lady Bird.
But a big studio comedy based on a true story sounds like a recipe for failure. Wearing that label to a T, Instant Family makes summer's underwhelming Tag look like a bona fide masterpiece.

This terrible misfire from the writing duo of Sean Anders and John Morris (Daddy's Home, That's My Boy, We're the Millers) introduces us to California married couple Pete (Mark Wahlberg) and Ellie (Rose Byrne) with a dumb gag. They are looking at a dumpy fixer-upper that Ellie plans to restore for her sister. But that couple is even more annoying than our main one and they pass on the house, allowing Pete and Ellie to restore it for themselves.

Comments about procreating lead to Pete and Ellie thinking about having kids and Pete's jokey remark about having gotten started earlier so not to be an old dad gets Ellie thinking about adoption. The two make their way into the world of foster parenting, the subject at the heart of this awful movie.

Pete (Mark Wahlberg) and Ellie (Rose Byrne) share a night out with foster kids Lizzy (Isabela Moner), Lita (Julianna Gamiz), and Juan (Gustavo Quiroz) in "Instant Family."

An orientation event introduces us to an assortment of offensive caricatures who like Pete and Ellie are considering this big move. There's a gay interracial couple, a straight interracial couple, a very devoutly Christian couple, and a single blonde woman (Iliza Shlesinger) determined to adopt an athletic black teen like The Blind Side. It's tough to imagine there being a more cringeworthy scene of 2018 than this, but Instant Family progressively gets worse as it does absolutely no favors for fostering, even though endorsing that practice appears to be its raison d'etre.

At a child fair, after unknowingly insulting the daughter of the more milquetoast (Tig Notaro) of the social workers (the more outspoken is played by Supporting Actress Oscar winner and perennial contender Octavia Spencer), Pete and Ellie meet Lizzie (Isabela Moner), a 15-year-old Latina girl who is among the too old outcasts nobody wants to foster and adopt.

Lizzie, it turns out, is the oldest of three siblings who are languishing in the custody of an awful money-driven couple repeatedly subjected to inbred jokes. Pete and Ellie only wanted one kid, maybe two. But they decide to give sassy Lizzie, apologetic Juan (Gustavo Quiroz), and potato chip-obsessed Lita (Julianna Gamiz) a chance. Now, the affluent white couple has three Latinx foster kids. What shenanigans will ensue? Since there's no reason for you to watch this movie if you haven't already, let me give you the basics as quickly as possible: falling nail gun, Six Flags separation, spilled milk, broken crystal dish.

The three kids are each a nightmare in their own way, but Pete and Ellie naturally come to love them so much that when their drug addict mother gets out of jail and gets herself clean, we're supposed to be heartbroken at the prospect of her regaining custody instead of Pete and Ellie getting to adopt them. If I told you it all ended in a courthouse scene where everyone gets in on a group photo while Starship's "Nothing Gonna Stop Us Now" plays diegetically, would you believe me? If so, then you'll also have to believe me when I say this is worse than any other movie that I've seen this year.

The lives of Ellie (Rose Byrne) and Pete (Mark Wahlberg) are dramatically changed when they take in a trio of foster children in the comedy "Instant Family."

Alternately sappy and stupid, this comedy seems determined to leave you hating every single character it introduces you to. Wahlberg and Byrne are appealing actors, with a long list of likable credits both comedic and dramatic between them. Here, you cannot believe how whiny and insincere they are in this insipid material that feigns to win you over by exaggerating and dramatizing a process that isn't to be taken lightly. I did not want this couple to find happiness, nor these kids to be stuck with them. I kind of wanted everyone to feel as miserable as this movie made me felt in an unusual two-month early screening I still can't wrap my head around.

Anders and Morris got their start penning raunchy comedies like Sex Drive, She's Out of My League, and Hot Tub Time Machine. None of those were fantastic. But their softened edges have not elevated their work either.
The two Daddy's Home movies and now this serve largely to drag down Wahlberg to someone whose resume is starting to resemble an early-'00s Eddie Murphy. All of the duo's comedies, many of which including this one Anders alone has directed, have had some problems. But none of those problems compare to the long list generated by Instant Family, a movie you only wish had the grace and subtlety of something like Old Dogs.

Perhaps the worst part about this was the applause that came from my early screening crowd as end credits began rolling with pictures of real foster families. This isn't a movie whose success will be measured by critics' reviews or awards, but by CinemaScore audience grades and box office numbers. As long as those continue to be there (as they were for their last two collaborations, the Daddy's Home movies), no institution will be safe from the kind of damage that Instant Family incurs on foster parenting in the name of comedy.

Related Reviews:
Now in Theaters: The Grinch Ralph Breaks the Internet The Hate U Give Bohemian Rhapsody

Written by Sean Anders & John Morris:
Daddy's Home Mr. Popper's Penguins We're the Millers She's Out of My League Horrible Bosses 2 Hot Tub Time Machine That's My Boy

Mark Wahlberg: The Other Guys | Rose Byrne: Juliet, Naked Annie (2014)
The Odd Life of Timothy Green Tag Crazy, Stupid, Love. Old Dogs We Bought a Zoo Martian Child

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Reviewed November 15, 2018.

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