December 21, 2018


"Instant Family" starring Rose Byrne and Mark Wahlberg as foster parents is pure boosterism, as well as simultaneously clever, touching and...crass. A young couple--who flip homes for a living, get it?--aren't even sure if they want kids ever, but all it takes is some online surfing looking at pics, profiles and quotes from some pretty adorable kids in need and they're sold on fostering. Their naivete is matched only by the eager, elephantine energy they put into trying to make three siblings feel happy and at home--including, uh-oh-they-were-warned, one TEEN girl.

More than anything, the film is a comedy. It's trying very, very hard in the beginning NOT to be maudlin, to let so many F-bombs and names of unmentionable body parts fly that we'll never mistake it for a Hallmark film. Manic dialogue, exaggerated conflicts and generalized slapstick kookiness rules the day. However, the film slowly gets better and better, hitting its stride and addressing virtually every trope about what goes on in the foster system: the good, the bad and the ugly. The dialogue settles down a bit and is often great sassy fun. "Instant Family" is actually a smart and novel way to educate the public--and the filmmakers know that we know we're being edutained. Olivia Spencer and Tig Notaro play tough officials from the county (a comedy duo of their own) who guide potential parents through the ropes (the parent support group meetings are a hoot). They make no bones about the fact that: "It's not going to be easy." These young people have been abandoned and betrayed over and over again. To ask them to trust is to almost ask the impossible of  them.

At one point, the rebellious teen asks her new guardians: "Why did you suddenly want to become foster parents, huh?" When they're at a loss for an answer, all seems lost. On top of this, the children's birth mother reappears and it looks like the family will reunite (the ultimate goal of the foster program--if it's the best thing for the kids).

Of course, in our hearts, we know there's going to be a happy ending of one sort or another, but it will only be through a lot of heartache and growth--on everyone's part. The film wraps up well and with some unexpected flourishes and...lots of joyful celebration. (Oh, and watch for the Joan Cusack cameo.)

Kudos to the creative minds (and hearts) behind "Instant Family" for taking up such a delicate, fraught and needed conversation about the young minds and hearts who fall through the cracks and need a helping hand, a place to crash (and maybe a sledgehammer with which to smash) while families mend, dissolve or reconfigure themselves.

The MPAA rating is PG-13, but should be R because of persistent salacious language and subject matters talked about (no objectionable visuals). 


--The portrayal of Wahlberg and Byrne as awkward, average chumps is in line with the government's current foster program campaign: "You don't have to be perfect to be a parent."

--Rose Byrne always does such wonderful light comedy.

--"Instant Family" is often genuinely hilarious and has gotten good reviews for being a very atypical film for its topic (and a very atypical feel-good film).

--Faith in God is hanging around the film a bit, and it, too, is pretty hilarious.

--This film is better than heartwarming because it's beyond heartwarming to the definition of true love: "willing the good of the other as other, no matter what it costs me."

--Solid plot turning point: Thanksgiving scene where everyone's true feelings come out.

--Another great film about fostering (group homes): "Short Term 12" with Brie Larson

--"The Florida Project" is a spendid film about kids in precarious situations, but seems to lean toward the argument of staying with birth parents even if there's certain risk involved.

--My half-sister fostered kids and wanted to adopt one in particular. His birth Mom wouldn't agree, but to this day, with kids of his own, he still calls my sister Mom.

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