Flawed But Funny Script;
Draws Genuine Emotion;
You may have seen a trailer for this and written it off if you aren’t looking for a family dramedy that wears its heart on its sleeve. You may have thought the premise seemed cliche and that it looked predictable. And you wouldn’t be wrong, but the thing is…none of that matters. It takes the formula you expect and turns in a damn good finished product that is much more enjoyable, funny and emotional than I expected.
The script from Anders and Morris is very funny and populated with characters that are easy to root for because they are genuine. Whether it’s the successful couple who realize they are in way over their heads as parents, the kids who are each at very different developmental stages with very different parental needs, or the people in the foster parents support group (some of which are caricatures for comedic effect but most are rooted in real struggles), everyone is fleshed out and real. The premise may be hard to swallow at times, as I doubt a couple who suddenly decides they want to foster/adopt would be granted three siblings, including a teenager, but plot devices like that were easy for me to get over because the movie isn’t concerned with being 100% believable. Total adherence to reality is less important than the overall themes of love and strong family bonds among people who recognize their own flaws and how they can help each other strengthen. The phrase “you don’t have to be a perfect person to be their perfect parent” is corny to some degree but still entirely true, especially for kids of a broken background. In that sense, the movie is like a metaphor for its own theme: it’s okay to be flawed.
Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne have great chemistry as the would-be parents, going from flipping houses to fostering kids in an obvious reference to their desire to fix everything they can. When they need to be funny, they make you laugh out loud. When they want you to feel their love, frustration, exhaustion or elation, you truly connect with what’s going on. Isabela Moner (fresh off a good performance in Sicario: Day of the Soldado) is pitch perfect as a headstrong teen who has been forced until the role of a single mother from far too young an age. She’s fiercely protective of her little brother and sister, while being as bewildering and unpredictable as her age suggests. Supporting roles from the likes of Tom Segura, Octavia Spencer, Margo Martindale and Tig Notaro keep you laughing and feeling the love the whole time.
This film is all about balance and it always manages to find its footing even after a slight stumble. Its humor borders on slapstick at times but never fully crosses the line. The heavy moments carry the right amount of weight without ever feeling overly melodramatic. It struck major emotional chords in me, and while some of that is no doubt because I recognized a lot of the traits of my own kids in the two younger children, a lot of it is due to a great blend of humor and love. It’s not perfect, but then again, neither are families. But with the right mix of ingredients, we can produce some very positive results, in both life and art.