Blu-ray Review: Instant Family

Instant Family is the type of movie that delivers exactly what you’d expect from it at just about every turn – but that’s not a bad thing in this case. The movie delves into the world of adoption, and while it isn’t afraid to touch on some of the harsher realities that face children in the system, as well as those that those looking to adopt may come to expect, it does so with a heavy mix of laughs and a consistent upbeat tone. This may sound like an odd mix, but it works for the most part when it comes to delivering the message the movie wants to get out there.

There are a lot of stigmas that can often come with the word adoption, such as the children are damaged, have extra emotional baggage, aren’t your own blood, or the often unsaid flat out fear that for some reason the child will kill you while you sleep. Instant Family touches on all these elements but does so in an incredibly lighthearted manner. While this works for the story and its pacing more often than not, there are times when it feels shoehorned in just to cross it off the list and get a potential laugh.

The movie stars Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne as Pete and Ellie, a couple that decides to jump into the adoption pool to see if they can fill a void they didn’t know they had until the idea popped up in a throwaway conversation. They sign up for a course to become certified foster parents, and it’s during that course that it’s made clear that while there will be a few emotional scenes throughout, the movie is a comedy through and through. So, while some darker elements are touched upon at various times, they’re done so in a way so that they either end in a laugh or a gag of some sort to relieve any possible tension that may have built up.

This works when it comes to keeping the story moving at a solid pacing, but at times it does feel a bit tedious. This is often the case with the foster parent’s support group that Pete and Ellie attend, where they’re reunited with the rest of the people who were in their course so they can sit in a circle and talk about the pros and cons they’ve been facing and try to help one another out. The issue is that while they try to use these as points to let us know what Pete and Ellie are feeling, or to give more insight into the adoption process, they often come off incredibly silly, with people cracking jokes and just acting like caricatures.

One ongoing joke that I found quite funny at the start of the movie was when each person at the foster parent orientation introduces themselves and explains what type of child they may be looking to adopt. When it finally lands on October (Iliza Shlesinger) she explains she’s a single mom looking for a talented, athletic boy that she can help train to their full potential…silently adding, preferably African American. Ellie laughs, pointing out that that’s the plot of The Blind Side, to which October dismisses her and says never to talk to her again. It’s funny enough, as are the couple of jokes that follow soon after regarding that same topic; however, this is the type of joke that should end once orientation is finished, and yet it continuously pops up over the course of the entire movie.

I’m fine with the movie not wanting to become too heavy in its themes, as it really does work and get the message across with its lighter tone; however, these meetings and the entire foster group dynamic grows weary and could have easily been trimmed and tightened up to solely focus on Pete and Ellie, instead of always feeling the need to end on some silly punchline that has everyone in the group laughing like mindless goofs, not matter how serious the topic.

Now, the story of Instant Family is based on director/co-writer, Sean Anders’ actual experience in adopting three children, and he says in the special features that these groups are actually like this, where stories are shared and laughs are had to help keep everyone in good spirits and work through the harder times, but while that may be the case, it just doesn’t come off properly here, with almost everything being a joke, and the laughing being done coming off as forced.

That sort of thing aside, the positive vibe that a majority of the film gives off is actually a good thing. While it does somewhat romanticize adoption in the long run, it also points out some of the harder sides to it, including the extra effort it may take from the potential parents when it comes to adopting a teenager. There are times in the movie where Pete and Ellie need an inspirational speech or two to help them through a rough patch, and that kind of feels like what Instant Family is: a two-hour long inspirational movie on the pros of adoption, and how it’s something that’s very much needed these days.

Now while that may be the case, it also showcases a lot of the scenarios that, as gag or laugh filled as they may be, highlight why adoption isn’t for everyone. It’s not an easy road to travel, and there are lots of bumps – some major, or even insurmountable – along the way; however, there’s a good chance that a movie like this may trigger something in some people who watch it and it may open their eyes to something missing in their lives as well. I mean, that’s definitely one of the goals of the movie, and I believe it succeeds on that front.

One area that’s make or break for a movie like this is the kids, and all three are absolutely fantastic. From oldest to youngest we have Lizzy (Isabela Moner), Juan (Gustavo Quiroz) and Lita (Julianna Gamiz,) and they work so well together you’d think they were actual siblings. The chemistry they share with one another also crosses over with Wahlberg and Byrne, and it’s the natural dynamic that all five share on screen over the course of the film that really brings it to life and gets the audience invested. The great comedic timing that each member of this on-screen family also has is also integral to a movie that relies heavily on laughs to carry things along, so really, they couldn’t have wished for better in any of these particular roles, as its just not out there.

When all is said and done, Instant Family has its heart in the right place, two great leads with natural chemistry and a solid, well-paced story to back it all up. It brings to light a topic that could benefit greatly from this sort of platform, and while it’s a more sugar-coated take on the adoption process, it at least doesn’t act like its all sunshine and rainbows, and also touches on – albeit, sometimes too briefly – some of the bigger hardships both sides are likely to encounter along the way. In short, Instant Family is a funny, entertaining, emotionally engaging, heartfelt film that delivers in what it sets out to accomplish.

The movie looks and sounds great. This isn’t a film that really pushes the boundaries on any level, but that doesn’t mean you want them to skimp on the visuals or audio, as both are vital to the entertainment value of a Blu-ray, regardless of if the film is a drama or a blockbuster that may be more heavily dependent on them. The movie looks crisp, with clean visuals, beautiful colours and deep blacks, with no muddy shadowing to distract in the few darker scenes. The audio comes through beautifully, with the soundtrack and score working well alongside the audio mix, dialogue and effects.

Special Features:

Commentary – There’s a commentary track with co-writer/director Sean Anders, and co-writer John Morris. With this being a semi-autobiographical story for Anders, there’s a lot of goodies and insight he touches upon for those who want to give this a listen.

Mr. and Mrs. Fix It – This is a four-minute featurette that focuses on Wahlberg and Byrne’s characters.

Kid Power – This one comes in at nine-minutes in length and focuses on the kids in the movie, talking about all three individually, why they were chosen for the roles as well as what the cast and crew think of their work.

I Need Some Support – This five-minute featurette touches on the support group in the movie, and how it’s based off an actual group, why it’s so important to foster families and why it was included in the film.

Order in the Court – This is a four-minute featurette that talks about the emotions that ran wild on set during one of the final scenes in the film.

The Families Behind the Fair – This is a nine-minute feature that focuses on the fair scene, where Pete and Ellie show up to a fair, where you meet potential children you can adopt. Here we find out that a lot of the extras used in the scene were actually adoptive families that had gone through this process and we learn about them and their experiences briefly.

Crew Inspiration – This is a five-minute featurette that talks about how Anders and the crew went and interviewed teenagers that were adopted, and brought one on board as a consultant as she helped bring some of her story into the movie, and helped give more depth to the teenager’s perspective in the film. We also meet a few other actors in the movie who are people that Anders met during his adopting process.

The Anders Family – This is a 7-minute featurette where Sean and his wife talk about how they ended up adopting three kids without ever really planning to do that, much like the characters in the movie. It was more said on a whim, and then eventually led to them adopting a trio that now makes up their family.

Gag Reel – This is a 3-minute gag reel. It’s a fun, quick watch, though it’s more of a “cute moments” reel over a laugh-out-loud gag reel.

Deleted/Extended Scenes – There are a handful of deleted and extended scenes to check out if you so choose.

Proposal on Set – This is a quick two and a half minute featurette about a proposal that took place on set when they were framing up stand-ins for a scene.

Music Video

Paramount Pictures Presents Instant Family. Directed by: Sean Anders. Written by: Sean Anders and John Morris. Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Rose Byrne, Isabela Moner, Gustavo Quiroz, Julianna Gamiz, Octavia Spencer, Tig Notaro, Tom Segura, Margo Martindale, Julie Hagerty. Running time: 118 Minutes. Rating: PG. Released on Blu-ray: Mar. 5, 2019.

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