By Gregg Shapiro
Some movies, more than others, need to be experienced in a full movie theater. It makes the shared emotions, laughing and crying, take on more significance. “Instant Family” (Paramount) is one such movie.
“Inspired by a true story” – that of director and co-screenwriter Sean Anders — “Instant Family” is a considerable departure for Anders, known for tasteless adult comedies such as “Sex Drive”, “Daddy’s Home” and its sequel, and “Horrible Bosses 2”. As manipulative as a movie can get, the surprisingly sensitive “Instant Family” provides laugh-out-loud comedy and heart-tugging tears in almost equal measure.
Pete (Oscar-nominee Mark Wahlberg) and Ellie (Rose Byrne) are a childless couple who are happily living an unencumbered life. They buy and flip houses. Ellie does the interior design and decorating and Pete handles the demo and remodeling.
When Ellie’s competitive sister Kim (Allyn Rachel) and brother-in-law Russ (Tom Segura) announce plans to start a family, it sets something off in Ellie. Her reaction also has an effect on Pete. Before you know it they are attending a presentation by Karen (Octavia Spencer) and Sharon (out actor Tig Notaro) at an adoption agency along with several other couples, including gay couple Kit (Hampton Fluker) and Michael (Randy Havens).
One thing leads to another and, after taking courses and attending an adoption fair held in a park, as well as surviving an unfortunate Thanksgiving dinner scene with Ellie’s parents and family, Pete and Ellie decide to take the next step and adopt. As it turns out, not only do they accept the challenge of adopting a teenager, Lizzy (Isabela Moner), but also her two younger siblings Juan (Gustavo Quiroz) and Lita (Julianna Gamiz).
Almost everything that could possibly go wrong does, and then some. The aforementioned laughter and tears are in abundance as Pete and Ellie navigate the highs and lows of being foster parents. As Anders is want to do, “Instant Family” relies heavily on pratfalls and sight gags and occasionally borders on the vulgarity of his previous movies.
Nevertheless, “Instant Family” never goes off the rails, although it veers awfully close. As if the challenges that Pete and Ellie face on a daily basis with the kids isn’t enough, the release of the children’s drug-addicted mother from prison poses the greatest threat of all to the family.
Not only are there no gay jokes in “Instant Family”, the gay characters are actually treated with the utmost respect. On the other hand, ongoing bits involving the overly apologetic and klutzy Juan’s recurring injuries and single mother October’s (Iliza Shlesinger) quest for a “Blindside”-type son run the risk of wearing thin.
Byrne and Wahlberg are fine, showing restraint when need be and cranking up the emotions as necessary. As young actors go, Moner and Gamiz are more memorable than Quiroz who isn’t really given much to work with. The supporting cast, including Julie Hagerty as Ellie’s mom Jan, Margo Martindale as Pete’s mom Sandy, and Joan Cusack (who comes on late in the movie) as neighbor Mrs. Howard, are often the sources of the biggest laughs.
Rating: 2.5 peaches