By John Mulderig
It’s rare that a movie can reasonably be expected to accomplish some good in the real world. But director and co-writer Sean Anders’ blend of comedy and drama, Instant Family (Paramount) may be the exception.
This warm evocation of both the challenges and the ultimate rewards of adoptive parenting, based on Anders’ own experience, may inspire at least a few viewers to investigate the possibility of taking kids in need under their wings.
In that sense, the film is not only obviously pro-family but, in a totally non-controversial way, pro-life as well.
That said, however, it also has to be pointed out that Anders’ script, penned with John Morris, includes material appropriate for grown-ups only.
That’s a shame, because youngsters might have profited from a more circumspect presentation of this mostly enjoyable story.
Somewhat impulsively, good-hearted, prosperous suburban couple Pete (Mark Wahlberg) and Ellie (Rose Byrne) Wagner decide to start a family by taking in three siblings: 15-year-old Lizzy (Isabela Moner), pre-teen Juan (Gustavo Quiroz) and little Lita (Julianna Gamiz).
With their father out of the picture and their mother in jail, the trio has had a rough time of it in foster care.
At first, all goes deceptively well. But serious difficulties are not long in coming. Emotionally scarred Lizzy defies Pete and Ellie at every opportunity. Juan is accident prone and overly apologetic. And Lita indulges in tantrums of high-volume screeching whenever she doesn’t get her way.
Pete and Ellie eventually begin to long for a return to the placid lifestyle they once enjoyed. They also start to wonder if they can really cope with the commitment they’ve made.
They get help from the mismatched duo of social workers, buttoned-up Sharon (Tig Notaro) and freewheeling Karen (Octavia Spencer), who have guided them through the process, as well as from the support group Sharon and Karen run.
The members of this circle include two gay men, the defectiveness of whose ability to model the divinely intended complementarity inherent in a traditional home the movie predictably ignores.
Though the same-sex couple is thus put on an equal footing as candidates to adopt, this is treated more as an assumption taken for granted by the filmmakers and the audience alike than a point to be driven home.
This moral loose end aside, mature moviegoers will appreciate the deftness with which Anders weaves amusing incidents with touching emotional interludes.
Still, they will likely wish that some of the gags and a good deal of the dialogue had been cleaned up to appeal to a broader audience.
Viewers of faith also may be less than pleased by the mild irreverence of a scene in which an attempt to say grace over a holiday meal goes awry due to relatives wrangling with each other. This is somewhat redeemed, however, by a later scene in which a similar prayer is offered from the heart.
The film contains much sexual and some scatological humour, implicit acceptance of homosexual relationships and contraception, a handful of profanities, a couple of milder oaths, at least one rough term, frequent crude and crass language and an obscene gesture.
The Catholic News Service classification is A-III – adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 – parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.