Plot: Pete (Mark Wahlberg) and Ellie (Rose Byrne) have been married for years and have a prosperous lifestyle, as they work together flipping houses and have built a more than comfortable partnership. While the two have talked about kids before, an argument with one of Ellie’s sisters prompts a new discussion, only this time Ellie brings up adoption and how many children need families. Pete resists at first, but once he sees the kids on an agency’s website, he and Ellie soon sign up for fostering classes and begin to get serious about adoption. The classes go well and the couple decides to move forward, only to discover the teenager they’ve connected with has two siblings, not to mention a troubled mother in prison. Can Pete and Ellie handle being parents, especially going from zero to three kids in an instant?
Entertainment Value: Instant Family is pretty much a feature length advertisement for adoption, with a narrative based in part on director Sean Anders’ real life experiences, but it isn’t as saccharine sweet as you might expect. Instead, the movie has wild tonal shifts and doesn’t seem to have a target audience in mind, given some of the content involved. This kind of movie is often aimed at families, but this one is PG-13 and has language and social encounters that rule out most younger viewers. But at the same time, there’s not much depth or development, just predictable character arcs and telegraphed emotional beats, so it isn’t sophisticated material, leaving it as a rather inconsistent picture. Some of the humor still lands and the movie has some bright spots, but it is never able to build steam with the laughs, while the emotional elements come off as forced. The scenes with the focus on humor work the best, with the support group and Ellie’s family as highlights, with some wild dialogue and colorful characters, so it does deliver at times. But between the drastic shifts in tone, ineffective emotional beats, and at times languid pace, Instant Family doesn’t come through often enough and as such, it is tough to recommend.
How well you respond to Instant Family might depend on your feelings toward the leads, as fans of Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne will likely find a little more to like here, given how central their roles are. I think Byrne is great and brings her usual awkward style of humor, which provides a lot of the laughs. She really shines when she can either take an awkward situation too far or rattle off an odd line, as she is able to handle those kind of scenes with ease. I think most of the more memorable or humorous lines come from her and she is able to make some mediocre material work, so she was a wise inclusion that elevates the movie. Wahlberg has some moments, but whiffs on a lot of potential laughs, while his chemistry with his costars isn’t the best. This is better than most of his attempts at comedic roles however, so there’s that. The chemistry between Octavia Spencer and Tig Notaro is on point though, with a good dynamic and some fun banter, even if they’re used a little too often. The cast also includes Margo Martindale, Julie Hagerty, Isabela Moner, and Tom Segura.