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Film Review: A Heartwarming Story of Adoption Outshines Passable Laughs in “Instant Family”

Written by: Patrick Howard | November 15th, 2018

Film poster: “Instant Family”

Instant Family (Sean Anders, 2018) 2½ out of 4 stars.

Sean Anders, director of Daddy’s Home1 & 2 and That’s My Boy, continues his love for suburban-based comedies with the heartfelt Instant Family. Inspired by Anders’ life as an adoptive father of three foster children, Instant Family is the story of the house-flipping couple Pete and Ellie, played by Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne. Based on all accounts, Pete and Ellie are living the best kind of life. They have a good marriage, and their house-renovation business has taken off quite nicely. However, the couple feels there’s still a missing piece in their life. After Pete and Ellie jokingly suggest that they adopt a kid, they decide to put their money where their mouth is and dive into the complicated process of adopting a child from foster care. Before they know it, Pete and Ellie are the prospective parents of three siblings, Lita, Juan, and Lizzy—who are more than a handful, let’s say.

Sean Anders steps away from the raunchy, low-brow humor of his past films and proves he is capable of telling softer stories while rebranding his comedy for a family-oriented audience. Wahlberg and Byrne are an entertaining match. Much like Tom Cruise in the Mission: Impossible films, Mark Wahlberg is at his best when he’s working on a team and is on equal footing with his co-stars. Wahlberg’s Pete and Byrne’s Ellie are a well-rounded and grounded American couple.

The infamous concept of a white savior swooping in to save minorities from a grim life is brought up and serves as sobering moments in the film’s second and third acts. Isabela Moner is a standout presence and immediately needs to be placed on a “30 actresses below 30 to look out for” list. Moner’s Lizzie is intelligent, and appropriately confronts  Wahlberg and Byrne’s seemingly superficial niceties as the story progresses. Anders and co-screenwriter John Morris never once cheat the audience and frame Pete and Ellie’s motivations to adopt as anything but selfish. They didn’t do it for the sake of the children; they did it to fill a hole in their relationship. The remarkable thing is knowing Pete’s and Ellie’s true intentions never sours our rapport with them nor does it ever destroy their connection to the kids.

Rose Byrne and Isabela Moner in INSTANT FAMILY ©Paramount Pictures

Instant Family is a comedy that suffers from the imbalanced priorities of its director. Sean Anders tells the story of a new, multi-cultural family with unbridled sincerity and humility. No one can fault Anders for this—he lived it after all. However, we expect prime laughs from a Hollywood comedy and the chuckles in Instant Family are sluggishly predictable. When the jokes do not comprise of predictable slapstick, Anders offers supporting characters that rarely grow past the gags that initially made them funny. A handful of these characters, like the attendees at Pete’s and Ellie’s foster-parent support group, are relatively harmless, but Ellie’s family takes the grand prize of the most obnoxious group of people you’ll see in a movie this year. Faults and all, Sean Anders has directed a charming and inoffensive family comedy that champions an important PSA of supporting local foster homes and possibly helping them bring their attendance down to zero.


Patrick Howard has been a cinephile since age seven. Alongside 10 years of experience in film analysis and criticism, he is a staunch supporter of all art forms and believes their influence and legacy over human culture is vital. Mr. Howard takes the time to write his own narrative stories when he can.

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