Holiday movie review / ‘Instant Family’ (PG)

NO, I haven’t forgotten to give stars to this movie that’s reportedly (in an accompanying pre-release teaser) “inspired by the real events from the life of writer/director Sean Anders”. I just don’t have any stars to give it.

Contrivance, expressed as cliches and predictability, needs more substance than the steady flow of all three that he has provided.
Pete (Mark Wahlberg) and Ellie (Rose Byrne) regret that their marriage hasn’t made any babies. At an agency providing solace to couples in that situation, Karen (Octavia Spencer) and Sharon (Tig Notaro) offer them the three children of drug addict Carla (Joselyn Reyes) who’s doing time for arson after her crack pipe set their home on fire.

If “Instant Family” reflects Sean Anders’ childhood experiences, its strongest message is that they seem to have taught him nothing. Or perhaps he has learned but doesn’t know how to translate them into a credible screenplay. Either way, as the film progresses and Pete and Ellie try to cope with the children, and vice versa, what hits the screen is not an appeal to the audience to sympathise with all five of them but a drawn-out failure by either adult or the two youngest children to learn from what’s been going on.

The character most aware of the film’s issues (apart from Karen and Sharon serving as narrators who get involved) turns out to be 15-year-old Lizzie (Isabela Moner) who has been the real carer for accident-prone younger brother Juan (Gustavo Quiros) and five-year-old Lita (Julianna Gamiz) during a series of failed fosterings.

The only satisfaction I got from “Instant Family” came just ahead of the closing credits. I had been dreading the classic sequence in which Ellie would greet Pete one evening with the “Guess what hasn’t happened this month” moment. She didn’t.

After the film finished, I asked the adolescent girl a vacant seat away whether she thought what she had seen was credible. She didn’t. Neither did I.

At all cinemas

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