Director Sean Anders is no stranger to stories about individuals navigating new familial terrains. After all his previous two films were Daddy’s Home and its aptly titled sequel Daddy’s Home 2. While those films relied heavily on comedic pratfalls, Anders and his frequent co-writer John Morris achieve something rather special with their latest work Instant Family.
After being provoked by a snarky comment from a family member about to their lack of desire to have children, Pete and Ellie Wagner (Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne) begin to take stalk of their current situation. Happily married and with a successful career as a House Flippers, the pair start to contemplate whether their life has fallen into a rut. Deciding to participate in some foster parent prep classes run by social workers Karen (Octavia Spencer) and Sharon (Tig Notaro), the Wagners realize that they are indeed ready to plunge into the uncertain waters of parenthood.
Anticipating that they will adopt a young child, an excursion to an open house style fair throws them a curveball when they meet strong-minded 15-year-old Lizzy (Isabela Moner). Instantly taken by the teen, Pete and Ellie agree to welcome Lizzy and her younger siblings, sensitive Juan (Gustavo Quiroz) and fireball Lita (Julianna Gamiz), into their home. At first Pete and Ellie are amazed by how quickly they and the kids seem to get along. However, the rosy honeymoon period is short lived as Pete and Ellie quickly realize that parenthood is filled with many ups and downs.
Drawing from his own experiences with adopting three siblings, Anders’ semi-autobiographical comedy is the perfect blend of humour and heart. The strong chemistry among the cast allows this makeshift family to feel authentic. This is accentuated further by Isabela Moner’s convincing performance as a teenager burdened with being a mother to her siblings, while holding out hope that her birth mother will return one day. Lizzy’s attempts to push Pete and Ellie away provide the film with some of most engaging emotional moments. Parents will find themselves shaking their heads knowingly with many of the situations that Pete and Ellie find themselves in.
While Instant Family could easily be viewed as an entertaining recruitment tool for the Foster care system, the film is more than that. Anders does a wonderful job of dispelling many of the myths associated with the adoption. Touching on the prejudices and misconceptions that people have regarding the types of children that wind up in the Foster system, and how teenagers are often considered less appealing than babies, the film effectively shows how complex the entire process is.
The Blu-ray, which arrives today courtesy of Paramount Home Media Distribution, is packed with special features that shed further light on the adoption process. In the “The Families Behind the Fair” featurette, real foster families share the joys and tribulations of their experiences. The “I Need Support” feature touches on the importance of foster parental support meetings and why they can be a source of much needed humour even in difficult moments.
Heartwarming and amusing without being overly sentimental, Instant Family is worth bonding over.
Bonus Features: Introduction by Sean Anders and John Morris, Gag Reel, Commentary by director/writer Sean Anders and writer John Morris, Mr. and Mrs. Fix-It, Kid Power, I Need Some Support, Order in the Court, The Families Behind the Fair, Crew Inspiration, The Anders Family, Isabela Moner “I’ll Stay” – Promotional Music Video, On Set Proposal, Deleted & Extended Scenes