What critics had to say about Mark Wahlberg’s ‘Instant Family’

The reviews (good and bad) of the Dorchester native's new movie.

Gustavo Quiroz, Rose Byrne, Mark Wahlberg, Julianna Gamiz and Margo Martindale in "Instant Family." –Hopper Stone, SMPSP; Paramount Pictures

Could “Instant Family” be the film that breaks Mark Wahlberg out of his recent slump?

Maybe “slump” isn’t the right term. But for the last few years, the Dorchester native has struggled to find movies that perform well both critically and commercially.

Big earners tend to do poorly with critics, like “Daddy’s Home 2” ($104 million domestic box office gross, 19 percent freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes) and “Transformers: The Last Knight” ($130 million DBO, 16 percent RT rating). Critical darlings, on the other hand, tend to underperform at the box office, like “Patriots Day” (80 percent RT rating, $31.9 million DBO on a $45 million production budget) and “Deepwater Horizon” (83 percent RT rating, $61 million DBO on a $110 million production budget). Wahlberg has also occasionally made films like “Mile 22” that fail both critically and commercially, but the less said about that film, the better.

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“Instant Family,” which stars Wahlberg and Rose Byrne (“Bridesmaids”) as a suburban couple who adopt three foster siblings, has the potential to buck that trend. Partially based on director Sean Anders’ own family, critics have given the film a 74 percent freshness rating at the time of this article’s publication, and forecasters are calling for it to earn close to $19 million its opening weekend. Originally slated for a February 2019 release, executives bumped it to its current Nov. 16 release date in hopes that its family-friendly message will perform well during the holiday months.

To help you decide whether to venture out to theaters opening weekend, here’s what critics are saying — good, bad, and everything in between — about “Instant Family.”

The Good

Writing for Entertainment Weekly, Chris Nashawaty copped to having low expectations going into “Instant Family,” but said that Wahlberg and Co. exceeded them.

I’ll admit it: I had pretty low expectations for the Mark Wahlberg-Rose Byrne adoption dramedy Instant Family. And the trailer didn’t exactly boost my confidence, what with its hard-sell barrage of low slapstick and sappy schmaltz. But now it’s time to admit something else: I couldn’t have had it more wrong. It’s a surprisingly winning movie, packed with just the right combination of laughs and sniffles. Damn you, Wahlberg!

 

US Weekly’s Mara Reinstein hinted at the lesser movies “Instant Family” could have been rather than the winning “feel-gooder” it is.

The comedy could have been treacly disaster. It also could have provoked angry responses about why, in 2018, we need to see the story of yet another affluent white couple caring for underprivileged kids. It could have led to a career footnote for stars Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne. The remarkable movie, however, does not warrant any of the above complaints. This is a pure feel-gooder that not only has its heart in the right place, but its brains as well. And it’s funny.

 

The So-So

In his review for Indiewire, David Ehrlich gave the film a C+, but nevertheless called it “the best Mark Wahlberg movie in a very long time” and credited director Sean Anders for not diving too deeply into sentimental schmaltz.

The inevitable happy ending doesn’t promise everything will just take care of itself once the credits roll, but that someone will be there to see the kids through the inevitable hard times. Never as hackneyed as it is heartfelt, “Instant Family” takes the stuff of real life and turns it into a touching reminder of what love can do for the people who need it.

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Glenn Kenny, of The New York Times, praised “Instant Family” for taking honest, heads-on approaches to tough issues surrounding adoption, but also called the film “predictable” and “reflexively anodyne.”

The movie has some conviction: It presents quite frankly the drama of kids acting out, and the subsequent resentment the adopting parents feel. And it takes a similarly head-on approach to the social concerns around adoption culture: for instance, the so-called “white savior” scenario that Wahlberg’s relative lunkhead Pete brings up via an “Avatar” movie reference. Octavia Spencer and Tig Notaro as counselors make an entertaining memo delivery system for those issues.

 

In her B- review for the AV Club, Caroline Siede said that too many of the film’s jokes missed their marks, but praised supporting cast members Octavia Spencer and Tig Notaro.

The hit-to-miss ratio of the jokes is skewed in the wrong direction, but the film at least offers a wide range of comedic tones as it aims for “telling it like it is” truths about the challenges of parenting. Octavia Spencer and Tig Notaro make a delightfully deadpan comedic duo as the two social workers guiding Pete and Ellie through the adoption process.

 

The Ugly

Writing for Rolling Stone, Tim Grierson acknowledged that Anders’ personal story gave the film a certain weight, but nevertheless found it too light and fluffy. 

It’s a shame that “Instant Family” reduces the complexity, pain and joy of parenthood to a multiplex-palatable family comedy. The real story is probably far more interesting… and hopefully funnier.

 

Pat Padua of the Washington Post called the film “too manipulative,” and found its metaphor-heavy script lacking.

The movie relies heavily on metaphor. In its very first shot, the Wagners open the door to a run-down house that they plan to renovate themselves. Just in case you miss the strained symbolism, Pete later compares flipping a neglected home for a profit to fixing up an unwanted child.

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