Sign up for our free weekday bulletin.

Raw and honest moments make Instant Family a holiday hit

Published on

Vicky Sparks

Can I tell you a secret? I don’t love Mark Walhberg.

I’m sure he’s a great guy (his bizarre 2:30 a.m. wake up time notwithstanding) but as an actor, I don’t really understand his appeal.

I find him generically handsome and someone who replaces actual character traits with fast-talking and looking perpetually surprised. So I’ll admit, I didn’t have high hopes for this film.

Instant Family is the story of a couple in their early forties, Ellie (Rose Byrne) and Pete (Mark Wahlberg) who kind of forgot to have kids in between starting a house-flipping business and having fun. When they decide they’re ready, Pete is concerned he doesn’t want to be the old dad and jokes they should adopt a five-year-old so they can catch up. Except Ellie doesn’t think it’s all that funny of an idea and soon they find themselves enrolled in a class to become foster parents.

One adoption fair later (a troubling real-life thing where foster kids are shown off like rescue puppies) and they find themselves inquiring about Lizzie, a 15-year-old Hispanic girl.

Turns out Lizzie is a package deal and comes with a little brother Juan, 10, and a little sister Lita, 5, and all of a sudden it’s an … instant family!

The story is based on director/writer Sean Anders real life experience with fostering and adopting his children, and the thread of authenticity that runs throughout is what keeps it from careening into a full-blown cheesefest.

The corny moments are counterbalanced with raw and honest moments showing just how difficult fostering really is. In one scene, Pete and Ellie discuss possible lies they can tell their families to make it OK for them to give the kids back because they’re ruining their lives. It’s not afraid to say things that people only think.

Mark Wahlberg is all the things I’ve never seen in him before – he’s charming, likeable and funny. Rose Byrne is the comedic anchor, hiding the sheer terror her character feels with over zealous momming.

On top of great performances from the leads, the film has Octavia Spencer and standup comic Tig Notaro as social workers, a support group full of characters that despite their smaller roles are fully formed people — Margo Martindale as Grandma Sandy and a slightly odd Joan Cusack cameo.

This film owes a huge debt to its casting director who didn’t stop caring after filing the title roles.

This is a perfect film for the Holiday Season, with laughter and a tug at the heartstrings. Only the darkest, most cynical Grinch might escape without shedding a tear. I myself full on ugly cried, and it was only partly because I now have to admit to being a Mark Wahlberg fan.


Vicky Sparks is a Bright’s Grove native and movie critic for Global TV’s The Morning Show, which airs nationally on Fridays. Her Journal Reviews cover movies playing at Galaxy Cinemas Sarnia

More like this