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Book and Movie Reviews

Instant Family (2018)

dir. Sean Anders

February 28, 2019.Beth.1 Like.0 Comments
I loved this movie, so much so that I saw it twice, and the second time was just as good as the first. It was funny and light hearted, while at the same time being deep and emotional.

This review contains spoilers

Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne play Pete and Ellie, a couple who seemingly have their lives sorted out. Married and working together in their successful home renovation business, it appears nothing is missing until the topic of kids come up. Pete jokingly suggests adopting a five year old to avoid becoming an ‘old dad’, a joke that Ellie runs with, landing them both in a Foster Care Information session run by Karen and Sharon, played by Octavia Spencer and Tig Notaro. Here they learn what it is to be a foster parent and how to love and care for a child that has faced difficulties their whole life.

They attend a Foster Kid Fair to find someone they click with and end up drawn to Lizzy, a rebellious teen with two younger siblings. Pete and Ellie meet them, and after a family dinner convinces them entirely, they take the kids on. While at first they experience a honeymoon period in parenting, soon the individual issues of the kids show through, creating challenges that confront and test them. And, when they finally seem to be becoming a family, the kid’s birth mother reappears in their lives.

I loved this movie, so much so that I saw it twice, and the second time was just as good as the first. It was funny and light hearted, while at the same time being deep and emotional. Each character is unique and interesting, the kids were great actors and super cute, and the plot and pacing were tight and enjoyable.

Pete and Ellie are such likeable characters that it is a pleasure watching them. They are blunt, realistic, funny, caring, enthusiastic people who rise to the occasion through their stumbles. The actors have great chemistry, and the viewer can really believe that these people are best friends as well as husband and wife. There were no points in the movie where they were degrading or awful to each other, they were respectful to each other even during their fights. I found this incredibly refreshing, as the married characters who hate each other is a boring and tired trope. It also worked so well in this movie, because it took kids from awful family backgrounds and only showed them a positive, healthy relationship. One of the major themes of the movie reflects this, where being treated well is not something you earn, it’s something you deserve. We saw this not only with the children, but with Grandma Sandy, who has a touching scene where she states she has trouble believing she is loved due to how she was raised. When Ellie reassures her that they love her, we see genuine confusion in Ellie that anything but love could possibly be the case. 

Another thing I really enjoyed about this movie was how love was shown. It never just appeared, it grew gradually in the corners of each scene until the truth of it couldn’t be denied. It was in the everyday processes of breakfast and dinner and school drop offs, and the respect and concern shown for each child.

For example, there’s a scene where Pete and Ellie are discussing how much they don’t like the kids when they’re having the most trouble with them. Their house is a mess, they have no time for anything and the kid’s individual problems are exhausting. They come up with a way of getting the kids out of their house in a way that would get them sympathy, a funny, quick witted conversation that ends in the result of them sighing and admitting the kids are with them forever. However, this conversation is had in private, with no way the kids could overhear them, and their annoyance is never shown to them.

The kids were really great too. Lizzie is fifteen and raised her siblings since she was ten. She grew up in a tumultuous atmosphere of drugs and absentee parents and is the incongruent mix of overly mature and immature. She struggles with this as she tries to find her place as a child in a family, who doesn’t need to parent her siblings, and has people who want to look after her. Juan is ten years old and extremely sensitive and Lita is six and refuses to eat anything but potato chips. The movie shows these challenges realistically, and actually works through them, showing the kids progress.

Karen and Sharon were my favourite characters of the movie. Despite the rhyming names, they weren’t a bumbling comedy duo (though that isn’t to say they weren’t hilarious). They provided gravitas and meaning to the film, grounding the comedy and humour in the real world facts and figures of the Foster care system. The classes they ran for the Foster-parents-in-training were informative and interesting, and they used great visual guides to make their points. They used string and scissors to explain how a child in Foster Care is separated from everything they know but their siblings, planting the idea of fostering multiple children in the minds of the viewer as well as Pete and Ellie.

This movie was wonderful. I loved the characters in it, the actors had real chemistry and the storyline was realistic and meaningful. My only criticism is the course language used throughout the film which will be a drawback for parents with younger children. Otherwise this is a great family film, and could start conversations about foster care and the challenges some kids face in their lives. While the movie is about an instant family, there is nothing else instant about it. The viewer is able to see the love growing on the screen throughout the entire film, as well as the progress the characters make both in overcoming challenges and in becoming a family. I would definitely recommend this movie.

Categories: Movie Review

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