INSTANT FAMILY – A TALE OF THE TRUE SUPER HEROES

SHORT TAKE:

Instant Family is the charming, inspirational and humorous story of a DINK (double income no kids) couple who decide to foster three children. The film manages to be smart, brutally honest, funny and even whimsical all at the same time.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Must see! BUT only for older teens and up for language and story content.

AND IF YOU LIKE THESE REVIEWS PLEASE SUBSCRIBE! THEN YOU'LL GET     EVERY NEW REVIEW SENT STRAIGHT TO YOUR E-MAIL!!

GO TO THE BOTTOM OF THE LEFT HAND SIDE AND TYPE YOUR E-MAIL IN – IT (SHOULD BE) THAT EASY. ANY PROBLEMS PLEASE SEND ME A COMMENT AND I'LL DO MY BEST TO RESOLVE YOUR ISSUE.

LONG TAKE:

SPOILERS!!

Instant Family COULD have been called Foster Parenting for Dummies. This is no one's idealized version of a blended family. This is not The Brady Bunch, Three Men and a Baby, Despiccable Me or even……… The Blind Side (and you'll see why that's funny when you see the movie). But the movie is honest and very funny, miraculously achieving that delicate balance between comedy and drama which many movies attempt but at which few succeed. The innate parity between laughter and tears, which exists in the human condition but is rarely found in movie scripts, comes naturally to this script because the story was inspired by writer/director Sean Anders and his wife's real life experiences of adopting. All of the characters, from the kids to the support group members to the social workers, are based on the real people Anders met through the process – normally flawed humans with the usual awkward family dynamics trying to do their best under difficult circumstances..

Instant Family soft pedals nothing as it follows Pete (Mark Wahlberg – Mile 22, Deep Water Horizon and Lone Survivor), and Ellie (Rose Byrne – Moira from the X-Men reboot and Bea from Peter Rabbit, and who, though from Australia, does a spotless American accent) from their naive, romantic visions of fostering a child, through the often hilarious mandatory support group meetings, the spotty support of their doubtful relatives, through the decision making and then to the realities of trying to support, protect, guide and raise three at-risk and traumatised children of different ages.

Sounds like heavy stuff, and it is, but it is also laugh-out-loud funny.

The movie occasionally wanders gently into slapstick and slight caricature but only in a way one might, with the humor and affection gleaned from the wisdom of retrospection, remember an experience that did not seem funny at the time but ends up being one of your favorite memories. Instant Family reminds me a lot of last year's equally brilliant Wonder, about a family coping with a severely handicapped child. There are no bad guys, only the challenge, tackled by adults and children alike, to interact with the people who love you as best you can.

And if you ever wondered, as the PSA querries, that you had to be perfect to foster a child, the characters in Instant Family will disabuse you of that notion pretty quickly.

The support group scenes are especially funny, populated, as they are, by every possible combination of would be foster parents, from: single wanna-be super mom, to idealistic fundamentalist Christians, to an infertile interracial couple, to a gay couple, and to our protagonists – an upwardly mobile self employed couple, who initially think of these children the way they do the houses they renovate for a living. All come with a unique set of priorities and preconceived, often conflicting, sometimes counter-intuitive notions. Some are even portrayed as ridiculous or annoying. But, fundamentally, ALL of them have one thing in common: A core desire to provide a loving stable home for children who have none, and who are often at risk of abuse, addiction and even death at the hands of their biological parents and the environment to which they are subjected.

These foster parents, for all of their differences, flaws, quirks, and even errors in judgment, are the living life rafts on the treacherous and stormy seas of our broken culture, desperately trying to rescue survivors who sometimes don't even want to be saved. I love movies about: The Avengers, Thor, Hulk, Spiderman, Iron Man, Superman, Wonder Woman, Ant Man, Batman, Justice League and Agents of SHIELD. But these disparate, sometimes awkward, occasionally clueless foster parents are the true super heroes.

The acting is terrific, never succumbing to the easy temptation to sink into saccharine or false empathy, but neither does it avoid showing the warts of the torturous foster process.

Wahlberg and Byrne are excellent and never shy away from any of the very strong emotions of the moment, but don't dwell on them either. And there is a constant balance of the solemn with the naturally evolving moments of humor that always arise from even the grimmest of circumstances. For example, the social workers, Sharon and Karen, played by Tig Notaro and Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures and Zootopia) are very funny as odd couple co-workers. Notaro is the prim, proper, white, reserved, rule follower while Spencer is the outspoken, blunt, pragmatic, black counterpart. But they both have a realistic view of their jobs. When Pete asks Sharon and Karen about the foster children's father the only answer he gets is uncontrolled laughter. This humorously speaks serious volumes without belaboring the tragic point. In another scene, after learning of a significant hitch in their plans, Pete and Ellie come home to discover Ellie's mother, Jan, being decorated with permanent ink sharpies. There was no malice involved. Children and Jan alike had mistaken them for washables. Jan, performed by Julie Hagerty, whose unforgettable stint in Airplane made her synonymnous with ditzy characters, solemnly offers good and sage advice but, of necessity, while indelibly and distractingly face painted.

The music is a cheerful and delightful sprinkling of songs like Wings' "Let 'em In," George Harrison's "What is Life," and Jefferson Starship's "Nothing's Gonna Stop us Now". The perky upbeats also help soften the more somber moments. You can get the individual songs streaming on Amazon here.

The children are very natural. Isabela Moner, singer and actress, is Lizzy, the teenager who is simultaneously grateful for the safe haven Pete and Ellie provide for herself and her siblings and understandably resentful of these same people as interlopers to her "real," incarcerated, drug-addicted mother. Moner has a truly beautiful voice and sings the credit song, "I'll Stay," at the end of the movie. Gustavo Quiroz is adorable as Lizzy's clutzy, well meaning and inept younger brother, Juan. And Julianna Gamiz is the youngest and precocious sister, Lita.

The two younger kids act with the normal and very believable open ingenuousness, quick impulsive affection, manipulative behavior, and selfish temper tantrum demands of normal kids. But the writing skillfully runs a thread of abnormality underneath these kids' otherwise normal veneer. For example, Lita happily plays with Ellie when they first meet until Lita begins play-acting with her doll, calling her doll racial epithets and interacting with the doll  in ways she is obviously imitating from her previous foster parents. It's nothing sinister but casually cruel. And it gives the audience a taste of what every precarious day can be like for these kids whose parents have abysmally let them down  and are in a system which can sometimes fail them. But again the serious tone is undercut by the humorous way the failed foster couple insist she must have heard it on TV.

A lovely cameo is of Joan Cusack as an elderly, awkward, but concerned neighbor who helps to deflate another scene which could have degenerated into mawkishness but for her delightfully eccentric presence.

The filming style itself is very straightforward, almost like professionally made home movies, as we see quite intimate moments of Ellie and Pete with each other, with their families, and with the foster kids, and the support group sessions.

While there is no sexuality shown on screen, there are sexual topics which come up necessarily and inevitably with the raising of a 15 year old girl from a bleakly broken background who has severe daddy issues. In addition, under stress, there is some humorously interjected but understandable profanity that crops up sprinkled throughout the movie. This, with the serious topic of abandoned and at-risk children, make this movie suitable only for older teens and up. However for that demographic for which is appropriate it is a must-see movie.

 

 

THE WEEK OF – A CRASS ADAM SANDLER MOVIE WITH A GEM AT ITS HEART

SHORT TAKE:

Adam Sandler semi-slapstick about a working-stiff middle class Dad trying to provide the kind of wedding for his daughter which will impress the family of his wealthy son-in-law to be.

WHO SHOULD SEE IT:

Only for adults and then only for those who do not take offense at tasteless humor, raunchy sight gags, strippers, or bad language.

LONG TAKE:

The pickings were very thin this week at the movie theater so I decided to think outside the box and try a Netflix original.

There's an old Jewish folk tale called "It Could Always be Worse" wherein a poor farmer, grieved that his house was too small and his pantry too bare, seeks advice from his Rabbi. The Rabbi advises him to invite his lazy brother to come visit and open his house to his obnoxious neighbors and demanding friends. Reluctantly the farmer went home and told his wife, who, desperate to cheer her husband up, agreed. Soon every room in the house was taken up with noisy people who raided their pantry and slept in their beds and on their sofas and sprawled on their floor. Soon losing his mind the farmer returned to the Rabbi.

This time the Rabbi shocked the farmer by advising he bring all of his animals into the house as well – the chickens, the goats, the cow, the family dog, and all the cats. Soon even the obnoxious neighbors were complaining about the crowding and having their toes stepped on by cow hooves, the mooing and the barking in the middle of the night, and the smell.

After a full week the farmer was at his wits end and more miserable than he was before. Angrily, the farmer returned to the Rabbi who simply smiled and said now go throw everyone and everything out. Send your neighbors back to their own homes, kick your brother out, and put the animals back in the barn.

After sweeping up behind all of their departed guests the farmer and his wife discovered, much to their astonishment, how much bigger their house was, and how much more food they had.

At the height of the Rabbi's lesson for the farmer, while the house was full of neighbors and relatives and animals, Kirby, the visiting father of the groom, in the movie The Week Of, would have noticed little difference between staying at the farmer's house or staying at the home of Kenny, the father of the bride.

SPOILERS

In the premise of The Week Of, Kenny, played by Adam Sandler, is a working stiff who makes a very modest living bringing dilapidated hotels up to passing health inspector levels. Despite his limited resources, he is determined to pay for his oldest daughter's wedding without the proffered help of the much wealthier Kirby, played by Chris Rock.

Unable to provide adequate housing for the multitude of guests and finding the hotel completely unsuitable despite his best efforts, many of the relatives on both sides end up staying at his modest-sized home. Amongst the participants are Seymour (Jim Barone – a real double amputee) his uncle, Noah his emotionally fragile cousin fresh out of rehab, Charles (Steve Buscemi) his raunchy cousin, loud obnoxious elderly deaf ladies and the monster sized German Shepherd owned by one of his visiting kin.

I normally do not watch this kind of movie and likely would have turned it off had I not been planning to review it. So watching to the end, imagine my shock to discover a tiny gem buried in the bottom of this pond full of less than subtle sex jokes and caricatures.

In classic Adam Sandler comic style, there's something to offend everyone. Sandler and Robert Smigel, the screenwriters, make fun of Jewish culture, the mentally ill, the physically disabled, and the elderly. It's hard to tell which is more cringey, the often crude and tasteless jokes or the fact that Chris Rock plays a straight man and is old enough to be someone who has a groom-aged son. But somehow, The Week Of still manages to make all these characters approachable, even likeable, giving each moments that makes them relatable and human. Part of it, I think, is that even though the situations make fun of these vulnerable and sometimes inherently ridiculous people, Adam Sandler's Kenny treats them all with genuine affection and respect.

At different points in the movie, Kenny, literally, carries his legless Uncle Seymour around. Kenny never acts as though it is a burden. And this becomes an interesting analogy for the entire movie. Despite Kenny’s lack of financial resources, despite his pride, and despite his occasionally bad judgment, everyone looks to Kenny whenever there is a problem. He is the one with the heart to usually do what he genuinely believes is the right thing for his family, has the cleverness to get it accomplished, and the determination to see it through to the end no matter how ridiculous some of the plans are. It eventually becomes obvious that it is not just Seymour he cheerfully carries on his willing back.

In a side note, despite the fact the story pivots around an interracial marriage, absolutely NO references are made to this, cliche or otherwise, and refreshingly, race is the ONLY thing about which Sandler does not shark up a cheap laugh. The race of the two families ends up merely being a convenience for the audience to help keep track of which of the dozens of characters are likely to be from which side of which family – like wearing different jerseys at a sports event or using shirts versus skins at a pickup game of basketball.

Chris Rock's character, Kirby, is an extremely successful cardiac surgeon who lives out of very swanky hotels with a succession of mistresses. Kenny on the other hand has three kids who he adores and dotes on, but for whom he can provide "only" a middle-class lifestyle. Kirby's life is reflected in the swanky hotels he stays in, his clean, quiet, organized, unencumbered, glass and steel life without distractions. Kirby's life, on the other hand, is cluttered, messy, noisy, and full of humanity, conversation, hugs, arguments, interactions and affection.

Kenny is always there, always in the mix, always doing his best and keeping a calm, optimistic perspective on even the wildest moments. So – despite all of the epic fails in Kenny's attempts to provide for his daughter's wedding, despite: the leaky ballroom, the poor choice of a magician to entertain the guests, using his 11 year old nephew as a wedding reception DJ, feeling shown up by the sumptuous wedding rehearsal dinner provided by Kirby, the crude bachelor party at a stripper trampoline exhibit, the death of one of the guests and a fire – it is Kirby who ultimately feels both overwhelmed and outclassed by the modestly resourced Kenny.

In one example, representatives of both families meet at the emergency room as a result (trying not to spoil TOO much) of one of the "high jinx". Tyler (Roland Burch, III), the groom, feels responsible and Kenny explains to him how the outcome would have been worse had the group not done what they did, then embraces him comfortingly. Kirby can be seen in the background watching this exchange, and in a lovely but easily missed moment, Kirby realizes he is the outsider – that his son sought advice naturally and first, not from him, but from his future father-in-law, who seems to understand how everyone ticks.

In a funny repeat motiff, whenever Kenny and his wife Sarah (Allison Strong, who played a very strange secretary in another and similarly themed Sandler movie, Click) disagree, both put on a happy face, retreat to their bedroom and audibly yell at each other, believing no one can hear them. One of the cousins asks one of Kenny’s younger children if they are getting a divorce. With the exhausted confidence that every child should have in their parents' marriage, he says, "They NEVER do."

The wealthy Kirby ends up: sleeping on the floor, suffering the indignities of living with about 50 strangers at Kenny's house, being made fun of during a Parcheesi game in Kenny's asbestos infected basement, and is conscripted to help catch bats in one of Kenny's crazy plans to save face. Kirby as a result, comes to understand that the sum of all this lunacy is a close-knit family that will suffer through and with each other because of a love based on a lifetime of intimacy. Kirby threw money at every problem his family encountered. Kenny throws himself into the line of fire whenever someone in his family needed him.

Kirby comes to realize that Kenny is indeed the much richer man. Realizing what a bad father and poor husband he has been Kirby apologizes to his ex-wife, begins to make amends with his children for his neglect, and looks forward to spending real time with his grandchildren. It’s a little like Mary Poppins for the Zohan crowd.

And meanwhile all this is set against some appropriately chosen Billy Joel songs. The ending genuinely had me choked up, and not just because I was sick to death of all the bad jokes. I can forgive a lot in a movie if it makes a good end. And I have to say that in spite of the raunchy humor, the borderline offensive caricatures, and the repetitive visual jokes – for the sake of the movie’s final couple of scenes ….. all is forgiven.