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 FLORIDA PROJECT – AN ATTEMPT TO ROMANTICIZE A GROTESQUELY NEGLIGENT TEEN MOTHER

My sister, Wynne, reviewed The Florida Project so I didn't, as it turned out, have to endure it. She kindly has written a guest review for us. Here it is: 

The Florida Project 

SHORT TAKE: 

The movie, The Florida Project, follows a six year old girl, Moonee, who lives with her criminally negligent teenaged mother during a summer vacation. Moonee lives at the Magic Castle motel in a run down area near Disneyworld where the beleaguered motel manager tries to keep watch over everyone.  This is a very disturbing movie. 

LONG TAKE: 

Halley (Bria Vinaite – newcomer who director, Sean Baker, found in real life on an Instagram selling marijuana related merchandise), Moonee's mother, is a horrible person and six year old Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) is one step behind her. Halley is a single mom who is lazy, does not have a legal job, has a terrible potty mouth, takes advantage of her only friends – Ashley (Mela Murder) and Bobby (Willem Dafoe), steals, and does not supervise her daughter's activities. Halley is a disgusting piece of humanity. 

Moonee is the leader of a small group of friends.  During the course of the movie these young children: spit on cars and people, burn down an abandoned building, curse and make obscene gestures, are rude and tell lies to get money for ice cream.  Moonee loses two friends over the course of the movie when their friends' parents realize what she is leading them to do. 

Moonee loses her friend, Dicky, after the spitting incident and Scooty, Ashley's son, after Ashley realizes her son and the other members of the "gang" started a fire at an abandoned condominium.  Moonee keeps one friend, Jancey. 

Reviewers characterized Halley as a mother struggling to support her daughter and describes Halley as poor and unfortunate. Far from the embattled single mom heroically trying to carve out a life for her daughter that they imply, Halley is an irresponsible, criminally negligent teenager.

Halley does not have a job doing legal activities but still manages to afford cigarettes and weed.  Instead of choosing a respectable job, like her friend Ashley who works as a waitress, Halley turns to prostitution.  Not only does Halley prostitute herself, but makes little effort to protect Moonee from her activities. Halley sends Moonee to take a bath while Halley "entertains" clients in the next room.  Now, you could argue, Halley did not want to leave Moonee alone while she "works", but Moonee runs the streets without supervision all day while Halley  lays in bed watching TV, listening to music and reading magazines. 

Halley does terrible things to people if they disagree with her. Halley gets her friend, Ashley, to steal food for her from the restaurant where Ashley works. But when Ashley does not want to steal food for Halley any more or give Halley rent money and confronts Halley about being a prostitute, Halley beats the snot out of Ashley.  

Haley gets angry with Bobby, the motel manager, and she … 

{Ed note: OK – GOTTA GIVE MY FIRST DISGUST WARNING HERE – but to provide the full expose of how demented this poor excuse for a mother is, it is fair to include this – but if you do not want to read it just be aware it's disgusting and skip down to where I mark that it is "SAFE NOW": 

…reaches into her panties and removes a used sanitary napkin and slaps it on the glass door.  Charming, and we are supposed to feel sorry for her terrible life.} 

SAFE NOW 

The movie throws in a few (what are supposed to be) warm and fuzzy mother-daughter moments: playing out in the rain, giving her daughter a ride in a STOLEN grocery cart, stealing and selling stolen items together, hitch hiking, making obscene gestures at people together, taking bikini selfies…… 

Dafoe's Bobby, the manager of the motel, is a kind, likable character.  He tries to keep the peace between the residents and the tourists.  Bobby keeps the place clean and repairs what's broken when needed. (Though what is truly broken in Halley he finds there is nothing he can do.)  He even watches out for the kids living there.  For example, he finds a strange middle age man hanging around the motel playground watching the little girls.  Bobby confronts the intruder, gets his name from the intruder's driver's license, threatens to call the police and tells him never to return. 

Eventually and predictably, the Florida Department of Children and Families show up with the police to remove Moonee and put her in foster care.  The case workers are shown to be somewhat incompetent.  Moonee escapes and runs to her friend, Jancey. The closing scene shows them running together to Disneyworld. You never know whether it was Ashley or Bobby who called DCF or if it was just in the natural course of events that Moonee's precarious situation came to their attention. 

When the credits roll you are left thinking: "WHAT?! Did I miss something??"  The ending is very abrupt and does not tell us what happens to Halley or Moonee.  It is left up to the audience's imagination.  After investing time and sitting through this emotionally gut wrenching movie, it is disappointing to not have a conclusion. An interview with the director reveals this was deliberate. Rather than coming up with a proper conclusion, the director/writer, Baker, decided to leave it up to the audience. Quoted from an interview Baker had with Ashley Lee for the Hollywood Reporter: "It's left up to interpretation but it's not supposed to be literal, it's supposed to be a moment in which we're putting the audience in the headspace of a child." However, Baker ignores the fact that this is a very disturbed child. The result is a very unsatisfying "resolution" to this already difficult to watch movie.

 

Obviously the director has an eye for finding new and underused talent.  Halley, played by Bria Vinaite, had never done anything in movies before but was very convincing as the self-destructive mother. Brooklynn Prince, as Moonee, is brand new also, but does well portraying the virtually abandoned child.  The ever brilliant but not often enough seen Willem Dafoe gives a strong quiet performance as the eye in this storm.  The three main characters give very convincing character portrayals of the troubled and those left to clean up behind them. Mr. Baker brought out the best in all three for this undeserving story. Perhaps Mr. Baker will put his talents to better use next time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Show Previous Message Prev  |  Next Show Next Message