Instant Family Review

8.5

Great

Instant Family

Studios: Closest to the Hole Productions
Publisher: Paramount Pictures
Platforms: Cinema
Release Date: 10th of January 2019 – Tickets Available Here

I originally went into this film with some fairly low expectations. Modern American comedies have a habit of resorting to cringe, slapstick, or gross-out material in order to get their laughs and they’ve never really been all that funny for me. Although the trailer certainly looked promising, I feel it is a sign of our times to not place too much stock in a trailer to ascertain a film’s comedic tone. My expectations were low and I fully expected to be fighting cringe throughout the 90-minute runtime.

Story

The film follows two wealthy suburbanites, Peter (Mark Wahlberg) and Ellie Wagner (Rose Byrne), as they make the decision to start a family by adopting. They persevere through foster parent training and are won over by the quick wit of teen Lizzy (Isabela Moner) which also brings them in contact with her two younger siblings Juan (Gustavo Quiroz) and Lita (Julianna Gamiz). The children and the parents-to-be find that the dynamics they’ve each developed me be at odds with their desires to form a family. Will their differences force the family apart or will they be able to come together as a family?

The film follows two wealthy suburbanites, Peter (Mark Wahlberg) and Ellie Wagner (Rose Byrne), as they make the decision to start a family by adopting. They persevere through foster parent training and are won over by the quick wit of teen Lizzy (Isabela Moner) which also brings them in contact with her two younger siblings Juan (Gustavo Quiroz) and Lita (Julianna Gamiz). The children and the parents-to-be find that the dynamics they’ve each developed me be at odds with their desires to form a family. Will their differences force the family apart or will they be able to come together as a family?

Right off the bat, let me say that this film actually featured a very good script. A lot of the jokes were genuinely laugh inducing and often times heartfelt. There’s a certain brevity and tempo to the dialogue which gave the film a good flow suitable to comedy and keeps the action moving at a brisk pace. Couple this with some actual sharp wit and more often than not, I found that the jokes would very often land squarely where they should… on my funny bone.

An aspect I was particularly impressed with was how character-driven the script and comedy were. Each of the protagonists were given well-formed personalities which changed and grew over the course of the film in ways which were reasonable and expected. The comedy similarly grew out of character interactions as they butt up against a problem or limitation which they work to overcome. This comedy often comes not at the expense of a given individual but rather a dysfunction in the family unit which the characters work to overcome in often unorthodox ways.

In this regard, the performances of the ensemble are strong across the board. Wahlberg and Byrne work well with each other and their younger co-stars as the hapless parent couple learning to navigate their new responsibilities. Moner, Quiroz, and Gamiz all similarly adopt their roles with humour and slow-building warmth. As an ensemble, they work well together and all have excellent comic timing and chemistry. Similarly, I’d like to highlight for praise both Octavia Spencer and Tig Notaro as supporting social workers who did double-duty as comic reflief and tragic chorus.

There was a lot that I liked with this film but there are some shortcomings I feel should be good to highlight now. Although the trailers and PG rating may give the impression this is a light-hearted family comedy, it is absolutely not as it deals with a number of very adult themes ranging from childhood neglect, drug addiction, and sexual abuse. Although the film mostly deals with these topics in a mature fashion, there are some topics which aren’t given the room they need to breathe as they’re played shallow for laughs. Juan, for instance, is clearly suffering from a case of PTSD throughout the film but never has this really addressed in any way. I wished that the film had so that we could see the family tackle this issue together and I am disappointed we didn’t get to see that happen.

Another elephant in the room worth addressing is the problematic nature of having another story that plays to the ‘white saviour’ trope. The film does play to the trope with the Wagners certainly being of the demographics which match that particular dynamic but there is a certain deal of nuance which I think can be applied in this case. The relationship between the parents and the children is somewhat more complex than a simpler power dynamic would allow. The film even attempts to lampshade this particular problem by mocking the in-character concerns of the Wagners in the same vein by stating that the foster system is already overburdened and such concerns don’t help the children who need to navigate through the reality of the foster system…but this isn’t reality; it’s a movie. At some point in the production, someone made the call to cast these particular actors as opposed to others who might have fit the roles; that choice plays into a trope which has been identified and discussed for a while now. If this is something which bothers you, your enjoyment of this film will be hamstrung.

Visuals & Audio

The film’s visual direction largely adopts a naturalistic tone with a subtle competency to it. It makes the film feel visually straightforward and allows you to focus on the performances and writing which, as I’ve mentioned, are quite good. There are certain sequences which do get a bit more attention with editing or graphics but they’re largely used to heighten the tension or simply convey necessary information to the audience in an interesting way. It’s competent filmmaking with a clear desire to place attention and focus on to the strengths of the script and actors.

The film’s score and soundtrack are largely unremarkable. There is really quite little I can say here beyond it wasn’t good or bad and with little that really stood out. I do remember there were some pop songs that were featured in the soundtrack but I am hard-pressed to recall them now. Largely forgettable but certainly doesn’t detract from the experience.

Conclusion

I very much enjoyed my time with this film and can heartily recommend it to those of you who are able to deal with the film’s confronting material and problematic aspects. The script and performances are strong all round and it features some of the best comedy I’ve seen in recent memory. It knows where its strengths lie and the direction, from a audio and visual perspective, works to complement the strong writing but not having the audience’s attention focus on slick editing or sound. It’s a film I’ve very much enjoyed in spite of the problems I’ve outlined. It’s an enjoyable film but I’d recommend caution when deciding whether younger audience members should be brought along to the screening.

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Summary

Instant Family is a very funny and slightly problematic comedy which has some pretty great writing and performances.
8.5

Great

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