It’s a contemporary family movie that’s about a family and is geared for family viewing. It has very funny moments with components that range from fast-paced dialogue to scenes of frantic slapstick. It tackles the serious issues of foster parenting and adoption. It has mostly good performances as well as a nails-on-a-blackboard one from a very young actress who is probably not ready for prime time. And though the film and everyone involved with it seem to have their hearts in the right place, it’s kind of a mess.
The simplest way to describe it is that it’s about a happily married couple, Pete and Ellie (Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne), who aren’t quite ready to have a family, but want a family, so they get a family, then find out they’re not even close to being ready to have a family.
Their shared career involves flipping houses — buying up decrepit homes, renovating them from the ground up, then selling them at a handsome profit. Ellie hasn’t thought much about having kids, but Pete has, and one day he quips, “Maybe we should adopt a 5-year-old.” Which gets her to thinking about it and, before you know it, and before the script is more than a few pages deep, they’re checking out adoption websites and the foster system, and suddenly they’re signing up for an eight-week foster parenting course, which could lead to adoption.
Wahlberg and Byrne (who once again amazingly covers up her thick Australian accent) present a perfectly cast onscreen couple, with each of them understanding and believably reacting to the other’s behavior and whims. Over at the foster agency, there’s an equally well-written, credibly acted relationship — of the working, not personal kind — between two women, Karen and Sharon (Octavia Spencer and Tig Notaro) who, though having opposing personalities, keep the story on track — and provide much of the humor.
The shaky plot device, which is supposed to anchor and drive the film, has Pete and Ellie agreeing to take home three siblings, of different ages and temperaments, for a trial fostering run, to see if they — it’s not clear if it’s the adults or the kids — would be good candidates for the adoption process. In short order, surly teen Lizzy (Isabela Moner), accident-prone Juan (Gustavo Quiroz), and tantrum-throwing Lita (Julianna Gamiz, the one with the wince-inducing screech) are brought home and introduced to a new life.
This is also where the film starts jumping around between being funny and serious, often with no middle ground, which makes watching it a jarring experience. It’s funny when there’s an extended (and clichéd) sequence about a large family sharing one bathroom, it’s serious when all three kids wish they could be with their real mom — who’s in jail … again. It’s funny to see the differences between the story’s two grandmas (Margo Martindale and Julie Hagerty — remember Julie Hagerty from “Airplane!”?). It’s serious when Pete and Ellie find out that Lizzy is sneaking around with an “older man,” and an uncomfortable hot-button issue is raised when it’s revealed what they do about it.
It’s a film of waffling moods that come too fast and too easy. When the plot shifts over to some goings-on in family court, things get fairly intense, and there’s no doubt that there’s going to be some confusion as far as how to feel about some of these characters. The big question is how will all of this be taken by the fostering community. A smaller concern, but one that will go through the minds of most viewers, is whether or not the film earns its not quite plausible, out-of-the-blue happy ending.
— Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Written by Sean Anders and John Morris; directed by Sean Anders
With Mark Wahlberg, Rose Byrne, Isabela Moner, Octavia Spencer, Tig Notaro