Pete (Mark Wahlberg) and Ellie (Rose Byrne) run a home remodeling company. Things are going well enough, but they feel like they’re stuck in a rut. When the conversation turns to having kids, Pete mentions it would be better if they could adopt a 5-year-old, so it’s like they started a few years ago. This sparks something inside both Pete and Ellie about the idea of adoption. They attend classes to become foster parents and decide to go forward with it.
At a meet the kids event put on by the county, the teenagers are off by themselves, knowing no one wants to adopt an older child who may have issues. Pete and Ellie go to talk to the teenagers but are quickly shut down by Lizzy (Isabela Moner), one of the teens who overheard them talking. Intrigued by Lizzy, Pete and Ellie schedule an appointment to get to know her better. Karen (Octavia Spencer) and Sharon (Tig Notaro), who head the local foster center, tell them Lizzy comes with two siblings, Juan (Gustavo Quiroz) and Lita (Julianna Gamiz). While they hadn’t considered going from zero kids to three, they decide to foster the children.
Things are going well with the new family. So well, in fact, Pete and Ellie brag to their foster parent support group that they have gotten lucky and have the best kids. Eventually, cracks start to surface in their perfect family. Lita throws tantrums over every meal. Juan just can’t seem to do anything quite right and is constantly apologizing. Lizzy shows her teenage side and begins rebelling, using her knowledge of foster children’s rights against her new parents. When the kids’ mom gets out of prison and wants to see the kids, the tension raises to a breaking point. Finding themselves more attached to the children than they realized, Pete and Ellie fight to keep their new family together.
Instant Family is based on the true story of director and co-writer Sean Anders’ real-life experience starting a family.
Mark Wahlberg has played just about every kind of role you can imagine. He’s done drama, action, comedy. You name it, he’s dabbled in it. Most of the time, he’s done a great job. Lately, it seems family comedies are his thing. I was surprised how much I enjoyed both Daddy’s Home and Daddy’s Home 2. With Instant Family he raises the stakes a bit. He plays well opposite Rose Byrne as they take on the challenges of fostering three siblings. Both Wahlberg and Byrne show the joys and hardships of taking on kids who have known little but the shuffling of homes that comes with being in the foster care system. Speaking of the kids, Isabela Moner, Gustavo Quiroz, and Julianna Gamiz all do an excellent job in their roles. Moner has always been the caregiver to her younger siblings, but she is just 15 years old and wants to be a kid. Octavia Spencer and Tig Notaro serve as a comedic reset, often appearing when things get a little to real to lighten the mood. They don’t detract from the story, just merely keeping things from getting too serious at times.
The story is an important one. Too many kids get lost in foster care, especially older kids and siblings. It is harder to place these kids with families due to the inherent nature of suddenly having multiple kids or one who may have issues. Anders borrows from his own experience to give authenticity to the story, which is funny and heartbreaking at the same time.
While it is marketed as a comedy, which it definitely is at times, Instant Family has real heart and will likely having you reaching for a tissue at times. It may even spark some conversations about helping kids who are stuck in the system. It is a good movie to take the whole family to so everyone can understand. There is some language that may not be wholly appropriate for younger audiences, but it’s real life.