“You’ve gotta laugh, or you’ll never make it through this” (Instant Family review)

Based on a true story flashes up on screen. I wince. Once again, we have to sit through a true comedy drama, “whoopee”. The trailers made this film look like absolute rubbish, but the marketers should be fired. They totally mis-sold this as a daft slapstick comedy, when in actual fact it’s a beautifully heartwarming comedy drama with brilliant performances.

From the director of Daddy’s Home (alarm bells!) comes another film about a family going through a crisis. Pete and Ellie (Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne) are a couple who decide something is missing in their life. They fill this gap by adopting three children who were separated from their mother following on from substance abuse and imprisonment. The film then tells of the journey the group take from adoptive parents to a family. What could have been a daft slapstick comedy that tiptoes around the complex issue of adoption actually became a wonderful tale of love and family that would melt any cold heart.

The performances of the two leads are great, especially considering that often Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne are miscast in these types of weak comedies. They are a perfect cast pairing who support each other but also can have friction when the narrative demands it.

Equally fantastic are the young leads, who play the three kids that Pete and Ellie adopt. The young two are hilarious and are there mainly for comedy, but Isabela Moner is the standout star playing the 15-year-old Lizzie struggling with accepting new parents. Her emotional weight is paramount to the film, and she plays this difficult relationship very well. Backing up the main cast are supporting characters from Octavia Spencer and Tig Notaro (as the social workers assisting Pete and Ellie), Margo Martindale as Pete’s hilariously overbearing mother, and Airplane’s Julie Hagerty as Ellie’s mother.

The story is admittedly pretty cliché, and most of the plot beats are clear from the get go. As well as this, some moments are a little simplifying of the adoption process, and for a story based on true events, these felt out of place. For the most part however, the film is pretty respectful of the adoption process, and does present the many advantages of foster-care.

Overall, Instant Family was an unexpected gem. My headline was a quote said near the start of the film (“You’ve gotta laugh, or you’ll never make it through this”) and this felt like an omen. I thought “oh no, these better make me laugh or else I won’t enjoy this at all”. In actuality, the drama is far more important than the comedy, and after a weak start, the film settles into an unbelievably heartwarming story that, I won’t deny, did make me cry.

5 stars 3

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