• Nate Adams

Review: Wahlberg and Byrne overcome harmless 'Instant Family'


Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

Hoping to spread a message of unity throughout turkey season, Mark Wahlberg teams up with his “Daddy's Home” helmer Sean Anders for his latest gathering “Instant Family” - a moderately delicate (and bumpy) look into the foster care system. A film that tries to be slapstick goofy (in the same vein as the “Daddy's Home” flicks) and surprisingly deep on the surface. It's a film more or less saved by the graceful performances from Wahlberg and his on-screen wife played by the consistently entertaining Rose Byrne.

Their talents are well suited for Anders film, who, more or less, drew on his own history for inspiration to the films narrative. Which sees husband and wife duo Pete (Wahlberg) and Ellie (Byrne) finding themselves in deep when they try to adopt three siblings.

This all festers after Pete's obnoxious brother says he'll never have kids. And instead of going the traditional route, him and Ellie decide to vie for a different alternative. Foster care. They hit up the local agency headed by the hilarious Karen (Octavia Spencer) and Sharon (Tig Nataro) who jokingly poke fun at their daily struggles. Inside is a foster support group which gives each parent a voice and bid for their next family member - with even one  single mom hoping to snag an NFL prospect and become famous (similar to “The Blind Side.”)

While the running joke of adoptive parents fighting over children wears thin (not sure how I felt about the kids being used as objects) “Instant Family” does have a pulse. Unlike other crowded family pictures (say “Cheaper by the Dozen” or “Your's, Mine and Ours”) - “Family” doesn't feel so mean spirited.

The situational humor starts to garner traction when Peter and Ellie accidentally stumble upon “The Teenagers” - seen as a group of outcasts, because who wants to adopt teens? Here they meet the bold and brass 15 year old Lizzy (Isabela Moner of “Transformers” and “Sicario: Day of the Soldado” fame.) Impressed with her sarcastically sassy charm, Pete and Ellie decide to embark on their quest in foster-hood. Which means inheriting her two younger siblings 10 year old Juan (Gustavo Quiroz) and Lita (Julianna Gamiz) - both watchable. 

Everything goes smoothly...until it doesn't. The kiddos argue, fight, kick, and scream. Just about anything you'd expect. Despite these cliches weighing down “Instant Family's” broader message of acceptance and fostering, the performances are all in sync. Especially from the younger Moner, whose made a name for herself in the last year (she's set to play Dora in the upcoming “Dora The Explorer.”) And even though Wahlberg is basically doing the same Dad schtick from previous films, he's fortunate enough to have Byrne pick up the slack.

You'll probably see the inevitably silly montage of unnecessarily dramatic hardships from a football field away (dating, tantrums inside department stores, estranged mothers etc) but you'll never doubt that Byrne and Wahlberg aren't dedicated to the material. We understand that life throws curveballs, but it's how you decide to handle them which stands the tallest. Granted, some of the generalized stereotypes Anders can't steer away from, nor can he resist the need to injure an actor on screen with some type of sporting equipment (this time it's a basketball) - at least “Instant Family” makes you feel invested and laughing through the jagged storytelling.

Grade: B-