Raising kids that you have nine months to prepare for and then adjusting to their growing needs with them is enough to drive you to drink. All those challenges are magnified in Instant Family. The movie looks at foster families, why people choose to bring in kids, and how kids try to adjust when their lives are in a constant state of flux.
The movie is funny and tragic, raw and honest. And while the stories, characters, and their perspectives are pretty clear-cut, the film struggles to blend them together.
Instant Family is telling a story that has been untold. Hundreds of thousands of kids in America have been removed from their homes for their own safety, but live their lives in limbo. Unless you are a part of the system, you don’t think about it.
So it’s good to see their story find a home on the big screen.
The movie looks at Pete and Ellie (Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne), a couple that suddenly realizes their procreation window is closing, and look into becoming foster parents. Much of the movie is set in their foster class and support group. This acts as an overt vehicle to look at the myriad reasons why people sign up. From the noble (want to help kids in need), to the somewhat selfish (we are missing something in our lives), to the spurious (do it for the government check).
The parental group setting also serves as a chance to show us the rollercoaster of emotions new parents go through.
Raw and Real
This film isn’t a two-hour public service announcement on the joys of fostering. It shows some seriously messed up struggles as Ellie and Pete try to bond with essentially three strangers now living with them. And while it’s new to them, the kids have been through this before.
There are sweet moments, frustrating moments, and some moments that may bring you to tears. We got to watch this movie with several foster families in the audience. Judging from their reactions, this movie hits the mark for realism. Things that seemed like a somewhat funny joke to us were getting huge laughs from the foster families.
But through it all, we feel like we’re being preached to. You know those church youth services that try to make it cool but still get a message across? Yeah, that’s Instant Family.
Octavia Spencer and Tig Notaro are in charge of the foster program. They play off each other pretty well, in
good cop bad cop gentle cop harsh cop roles.
They’re great, but you feel like they’re preaching right at you, as if to say, don’t go out and get a foster child because this movie made you feel inspired/guilty/needy. And that’s good, but the way the script goes about it makes it feel like you’re being hit over the head.
In the end, this is a movie with an important message that’s burdened with a script and direction that doesn’t convey the message very well. Oh, the message gets across, but when you leave the theater you feel like you’ve just walked out of one of those 90 minute time share pitches, but you don’t get a free three night stay at a resort community.
This film was already destined to get lost in the middle of all the holiday tentpoles and Oscar-bait releases, and there’s no reason to put it on your busy holiday season calendar. But once it’s released on digital this winter, you could do worse than to watch with your kids on a cold night.
The Critic’s Cocktail Recommendation
A strong shot of Vodka. It’s what Ellie pulls from the locked liquor cabinet when the foster situation becomes especially challenging. Your liver will have no trouble fostering the Stoli for an hour or so.