INSTANT FAMILY: Childless, married home “flippers” (Rose Byrne, Mark Wahlberg) find their own domestic life “flipped” when they take in three siblings with the kind of issues chronically displaced children are vulnerable to. There’s the rebellious adolescent (Isabela Moner) who’s seen and experienced way too much of life’s dark side, her accident prone, anxious brother (Gustavo Quiroz) and their baby sister (Julianna Gamiz) who’s a holy terror. Co-writer/director Sean Anders (DADDY’S HOME) has based his screenplay on his own real-life experiences as a foster parent which gives the story an authentic feel with anything but cute children that at alternate times need to be hugged and strangled (Metaphorically speaking, of course.) causing their grown-up overseers to wonder if this was such a good idea after all. The plot plays out like an adoptive familial version of PARENTHOOD (1988) with all the challenges, trials, tribulations and “meltdowns” that foster parents have to cope with along with those little moments of reciprocated affection that make all their efforts worthwhile. There’s an effective mix of comedy, drama and pathos throughout the work and it manages to avoid going over the “schmaltzy, syrupy” line except for a concluding adoption sequence so sugary that it’s liable to induce a diabetic coma in even the healthiest of bodies. But for the most part, the movie’s sentiment is consistently earned and you get the feeling that it wants to tell a different kind of narrative even if it occasionally feels like it’s making a pro-adoption pitch. The ensemble casting is spot-on with plaudits to Tig Notaro (PUNCHING HENRY) and Octavia Spencer (THE HELP) as adoption counselors who almost seem like they’re pulling off a comedy routine in every scene they share plus Julie Hagerty (AIRPLANE!) and Margo Martindale (SECRETARIAT) as maternal and paternal grandmothers, respectively, and even Valley native Valente Rodriguez (ERIN BROCKOVICH) as a family court judge with a martini dry wit. I doubt that this movie went into as much depth as it could have in addressing all the complicated complexities of adoption. But there’s an unmistakable genuineness about it with a good heart that always feels like it’s in the right place.
CRITIC’S GRADE: B+
CLOSING CREDITS: Here are some excellent movies starring Mark Wahlberg that make us ALMOST forget his “Marky Mark” days - BOOGIE NIGHTS (1997), THE BIG HIT (1998), THREE KINGS (1999), THE ITALIAN JOB (2003), FOUR BROTHERS (2005), THE DEPARTED (2006)*, INVINCIBLE (2006), WE OWN THE NIGHT (2007), THE FIGHTER (2010)**, THE OTHER GUYS (2010), TED (2012), LONE SURVIVOR (2013), DEEPWATER HORIZON (2016), ALL THE MONEY IN THE WORLD (2017)
*Academy Award Nomination for Best Supporting Actor
**Academy Award Nomination for Best Picture as Producer