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Blu-ray Review: Instant Family

March 11, 2019

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Due to the spotty track record of director Sean Anders, who previously helmed the pair of not very good Daddy’s Home films, you would be forgiven for not expecting much from his latest Mark Wahlberg collaboration, Instant Family.

But this film is actually far better than expected, thanks in part to the surprisingly sincere screenplay co-written by Anders, that was inspired by many of the experiences that him and his wife actually went through in adopting their own three kids.

The film follows Pete (Wahlberg) and Ellie Wagner (Rose Byrne), a happily married and financially stable couple who run their own successful business buying and renovating rundown old houses in order to flip them.

Feeling that it’s finally time for them to have a family, but not wanting to start from scratch so close to middle age, they decide to go the route of adopting kids from the foster care system. Working with a tag team of social workers named Karen (Octavia Spencer) and Sharon (Tig Notaro), they are matched with three siblings – the teenaged Lizzy (Isabela Moner), her younger brother Juan (Gustavo Quiroz) and their little sister Lita (Julianna Gamiz). But following an initial honeymoon period, Pete and Ellie find themselves facing the realities of being foster parents, as Lizzy hopes to reunite with her drug addicted birth mother Carla (Joselin Reyes) as soon as she gets out of jail.

While Instant Family isn’t quite in the same league as the family classics of John Hughes and Chris Columbus that it tries to emulate, it does pay tribute to them, and is largely cut from similar cloth. The film is a bit sappy and sitcomish at times, but there is also genuine heart to it, and the screenplay doesn’t shy away from the darker elements of the story, touching on the realities of drug addiction and abuse that often lead to kids being put in the foster care system, as well as the attachment issues and other challenges that can come with adoption.

Wahlberg and Byrne deliver likeable performances in the leading roles, effectively shifting between comedy and drama in any given scene, and they are backed up by a trio of solid turns from their young scene partners, with Moner in particular delivering showcase work. Behind the camera, Anders does a fine job of navigating the story’s many ups and downs, shifting between broad humour and moments of pathos, making Instant Family a thoroughly enjoyable and at times genuinely touching film that easily earns my recommendation, especially if you are in the mood for something that will make you feel good.

The Blu-ray also includes a commentary track with Anders and co-writer John Morris; a selection of five deleted & extended scenes with an optional introduction by Anders and Morris; a gag reel; a music video for the end credits song “I’ll Stay” performed by Isabela Moner; footage from an on-set proposal, as well as seven featurettes. First up, Mr. and Mrs. Fix-It offers an overview of the story’s themes; Kid Power looks at how they cast the three kids; I Need Some Support focuses on the parent support group that Pete and Ellie attend; and Order in the Court focuses on the film’s feel good climactic scene.

Next we have The Families Behind the Fair, which is a touching piece that introduces us to the real life families that appear as extras in the adoption fair sequence in the film; Crew Inspiration looks at the former foster kids and social workers who consulted on the story and also appeared in the film; and finally The Anders Family focuses on the director’s own three adopted kids. It’s a generous amount of bonus features to back up an already surprisingly solid movie.

Instant Family is a Paramount Home Media Distribution release. It’s 118 minutes and rated PG.

Street Date: March 5th, 2019

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