Instant Family

 

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Mark Wahlberg is a dad again in this mawkish and predictable comedy-drama, albeit one with some valid insights.

 

Instant Family

Family business: Margo Martindale, Gustavo Quiroz and Julianna Gamiz

    

For a man whose facial expression rarely switches from concern to apprehension, Mark Wahlberg has had a markedly varied career. From rapper and Calvin Klein model, he eased his way into acting on the back of a six-pack and boyish good looks. Then three years after his film debut, he cemented his movie stardom as Dirk Diggler in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights (1997). Since then he’s demonstrated a canny skill as a producer, putting his business muscle behind such dramas as We Own the Night, The Fighter and Denis Villeneuve's Prisoners. Then, blow us down, he re-imagined himself as the star of a slew of successful comedies, from The Others Guys to Ted (and its sequel). More recently, the youthful 47-year-old has fashioned himself as a paternal figure in the comedies Daddy’s Home (2015) and Daddy’s Home 2 (2017), both directed by Sean Anders. And now we have Instant Family.

 

Sean Anders’ track record as a director is not auspicious. With such titles as the derided Adam Sandler comedy That’s My Boy (2011), the risible Horrible Bosses 2 (2014) and both Daddy’s Home and the even more tedious Daddy’s Home 2, it’s a wonder he’s still working. But the last two made $423.3 million between them and money talks. His latest film as director (which he co-wrote with his co-producer John Morris) is mawkish and predictable, but it’s an improvement. No doubt low expectations help, but there are some smart moves in this shambolic scenario and some engaging supporting turns, too.

 

However, one can never be sure if Mark Wahlberg understands the genre in which he’s appearing. He seems to give a variation of the same performance in comedy as he does in such bracing films as Deepwater Horizon (2016) and Patriots Day (2016). But maybe that’s his charm. The humour here is provided by a roster of exemplary comedians, with small but effective turns from Margo Martindale, Julie Hagerty and Joan Cusack. The comedic backbone, though, is provided by Rose Byrne and the emotional heart by that fine American child star Isabel Moner. Moner, now 17, previously supported Wahlberg in the barmy Transformers: The Last Knight (2017) and Benicio Del Toro in the excellent Sicario: Day of the Soldado (2018) and she is a talent to watch.

 

Byrne and Wahlberg play an adventurous older couple who find themselves embarking on a new challenge and start thinking about fostering a child. Seduced by a Tinder-like website offering up maltreated children like human currency, Pete and Ellie Wagner end up with not one, but three Latino unfortunates with a crack addict for a mother. It would have been easy for the screenplay to have offered a one-sided take on the fostering circus, but it navigates the pros and cons of adoption with some complexity. “Things that matter are hard,” we are told and, indeed, they are. Whether they are wrestling with the issues of eating disorders or sexting, Pete and Ellie are put through the mill. Lizzy Viara (Moner) is articulate and precocious but rebellious and manipulative (and perhaps too pretty to be credible), while her brother is a jittery mess and the little one, Lita, a spoilt brat. Nevertheless, they are varied enough to be interesting and the skill with which Anders and Morris guide us through the domestic minefield has enough comic mileage and heartbreak to keep things compelling. The inevitable comes to pass, but not without some intriguing (and provocative) detours.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Rose Byrne, Isabela Moner, Margo Martindale, Julie Hagerty, Octavia Spencer, Gustavo Quiroz, Julianna Gamiz, Tig Notaro, Michael O'Keefe, Iliza Shlesinger, Gary Weeks, Joy Jacobson, Hampton Fluker, Randy Havens, Joan Cusack, Joselin Reyes.

 

Dir Sean Anders, Pro Sean Anders, Stephen Levinson, John Morris and Mark Wahlberg, Screenplay Sean Anders and John Morris, Ph Brett Pawlak, Pro Des Clayton Hartley, Ed Brad Wilhite, Music Michael Andrews, Costumes Lisa Lovaas.

 

Closest to the Hole Productions-Paramount Pictures.

117 mins USA. 2018. Rel: 14 February 2019. Cert. 12A.