Released: 10th Janurary
Seen: 10th January
The phrase “based on a true story” is little more than a marketing gimmick nowadays. Sometimes a film might actually be inspired by a real event that really happened but, a lot of the time, it’s either just an outright lie or it’s a meaningless way to try and add gravitas to a story that any writer of a lifetime movie could’ve thought up. Now that’s not to say this particular story didn’t happen, indeed all reports say that it’s based on the directors own experience going through the foster care system… but I swear I saw this exact same storyline in a movie I saw in the afternoon on the TV back in the 90s so it feels a little pointless to try and hang a “Based on a true story” banner over this good, albeit-generic, family film
Instant Family follows Pete (Mark Wahlberg) and Ellie (Rose Byrne), a married couple who make their money flipping houses. After the two of them realize they’ve fallen into a bit of a rut, they decide to try and find something to fill the hole inside them that the rut has exposed. They sign up to be foster parents and after their 8 week foster parent class, they end up adopting three kids who have been in the system for a while, Lizzie (Isabela Moner), Juan (Gustavo Quiroz) and Lita (Juliana Gamiz). Upon adopting them, Pete and Ellie have to learn fast that not only is it difficult to be a parent but it’s especially difficult to be a parent to kids who have been through the system.
While I might feel like this film is so generic that it feels like it should have a lifetime logo appear at the front of it to it, it’s hard to deny that there’s a lot of charm to be found here. The main two adults have really good chemistry and bounce off each other easily, making them feel like an actual couple before the kids are brought into the mix. The kids are easily the real stars of this, delivering some of the best child acting that I’ve seen in a while. Isabela Moner has been in a few movies lately that I, admittedly, didn’t care for but here she gets to really show off that skill that was always there but just got hidden behind substandard material. The other two kids are also really good, normally younger child actors can be… let’s be kind and say “Less than good” but both of these kids create great characters. I honestly thought Juan was the most heartbreaking character of the film, a kid who clearly was used to father figures getting upset at him at the drop of a hat so any time something goes wrong he’s apologizing and curling up into a ball with fear. It’s possibly the best performance in the film and it would be so nice if maybe his traumas were addressed a little more but we spend most of the time worrying about Lizzie. It feels like a lost opportunity to actually explore what made him so scared about everything, there’s something to this character that we never get to see and considering how good the actor is, I’d have liked seeing what was there.
The weird thing about this film is that I should be bored by it, I should have tuned it out. It’s a film about a couple who adopts kids and have wacky problems, that’s almost a film that was destined to be bad and yet, surprisingly, this film has a lot going for it beyond just a more expensive cast. There’s also some genuinely good pacing, aided by a talented editor who not only kept the pacing brisk but the transitions between scenes are stylistic enough that it keeps everything from being generic. The writing is well thought out, situations build up to some good moments of comedy or drama (depending upon what’s needed) and there are a lot of heartwarming moments that make it really easy to enjoy what’s happening. It’s generally a good film, but it’s also a little forgettable. I’m writing this up mere hours after seeing it and several portions of the film are already fading from my memory, none of it feels like it’s going to really linger for that long. There are no real standout moments, no things that we might be talking about in a year or so. I’m sure that once it hits the time for an end of year list, this’ll be a film that I forgot I even saw because there’s just nothing to really latch onto here.
The best thing that I can say is that this is a good film. It’ll make you smile on the way out of the theatre and provide you with a few hours of entertainment. It’s got some great performances and a hint of style, but it all feels temporary and like it’ll be quickly ignored and forgotten. If you go see it, you’ll probably enjoy it – but don’t expect to remember it for that long. Instant Family feels like one of those instant meals where all you do is add water… it does the job, it’s technically filling but there’s nothing about it that’s memorable and you wouldn’t pick it first.