Instant Family

First Hit: This was a very funny, touching, and poignant film about foster care and love.

Based partially on a true story, Pete and Ellie Wagner (Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne respectively) are enjoying a wonderful life together. They have built a successful business of flipping homes together. However, when they visit her family during one of the holidays, the family gets into a heated, yet hilarious discussion about kids.

They attend a Foster kid information meeting, which is hilarious, that is led by Sharon (Tig Notaro) and Karen (Octavia Spencer). As they learn more about the foster children and their needs, the more they are touched and consider adopting.

They select an older girl Lizzy (Isabela Moner) who has two younger siblings Juan and Lita (Gustavo Quiroz and Juliana Gamiz respectively). after learning that they will have to take all three the first week or so, starts off fairly well and when Pete and Ellie go to their foster support group they think, they’re “pretty good at this.” But then it happens, Pete and Ellie are faced with the difficulties, resentment, and behavior issues that foster care children can bring to the table through no fault of their own.

Watching Pete and Ellie, learn to fall in love with the kids was very well done. It was a subtly evolved piercing their outward bravado.

The scenes, although obvious in nature, allowed the actors to grow into the family dynamic and situation with both comedic and heartbreaking outcomes. When the biological mother comes back into their life, it was obvious that Lizzy hoped it would work, but the pressure overcame the mother —again. When Pete and Ellie meet with their support group, the comradery of people facing like and different difficulties with their foster children was both amusing while containing some real life challenges.

The quick quips between Sharon and Karen were extremely well timed and appropriately funny.

Wahlberg was strong as the charged up wanna be dad, fixer, and solver of problems. Although he can come off as pressing the character at times, in the end, he was perfect. Byrne was excellent. I loved her movement from reluctance to strong advocate. She showed sensitivity, warmth and strength. Moner was brilliant as the teenage girl that had been thrust into a parenting role and then had to let go and become a teenage girl learning how to grow up. The two scenes with the hairbrush were perfect: First sensitive, touched; followed by resentment and hurt. Quiroz and Gamiz were wonderful as Moner’s younger siblings. Quiroz showed a wonderful sensitive side, while Gamiz was both sweet and strong-willed. Spencer was fantastic and very funny as one of the foster case women. Notaro was equally wonderful and funny as Spencer’s straight woman and co-case worker. As a team they were perfect for this story. Julie Haggerty as Jan, Ellie’s mother, was wonderfully naïve, yet insightful. Margo Martindale was perfect as Pete’s overbearing, loud, and strong willed mother whose insights to raising children were helpful. Sean Anders and John Morris wrote a funny screenplay that made use of real-life experience. Anders did a good job of making this film work. His actual experience with foster care and adoption was apparent.

Overall: This film worked because the story had a ring of truth and the actors embraced their characters.