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Instant Family

You have to give producer Mark Wahlberg a ton of credit for assembling one hell of a cast for the holiday drama/comedy INSTANT FAMILY. There were times I was wishing producer Wahlberg hadn't cast actor Wahlberg, but.......

Based on a true life story, we meet successful couple Pete (Wahlberg) and Ellie (Rose Byrne) living a pretty great life, doing what they want, when they want.

Their family is hilarious, including Ellie's Mom, played by Julie Hagerty of "Airplane", who nails every laugh as a quirky matriarch who loves to stir it up at family gatherings.

Michael O'Keefe (Caddyshack, The Great Santini) is Ellie's dad, just trying to stay the hell out of the way.

When an offhand comment leads to considering adaption, the couple enters a very funny adaption support group that could only be real in the movies.

Andrea Anders (Modern Family) is comically inspired as a single woman obsessed with recreating "The Blind Side".

Comedienne Tig Notaro and Olivia Spencer (The Shape of Water, The Walk) steal every scene they're in as the adoption counselors who offer the ying & yang views of the road ahead.

Pete and Ellie end up adopting three siblings, including strong-willed teen Lizzy, very well played by Isabela Moner (Sicario: Day of the Dead), her accident prone brother Juan (Gustavo Quiroz) and little sister Lita (Julianna Gamiz).

The kids are perfectly cast and deliver laughs and tears. It's the mix of those emotions coming from Wahlberg that I struggled with the most.

He has some good moments, especially in his wordplay with Byrne, who always seems completely believable no matter the emotion.

But Wahlberg is stretching into real dramatic territory here and for me, not always successfully.

However, every time the movie seemed ready to fall into eye-rolling territory, a veteran actor shows up to save the day, including Joan Cusack as a neighbor in the right place at the wrong time and the brilliant Margot Martindale (Million Dollar Baby, August Osage County) as Pete's overbearing Mom.

Martindale gives a master class in how to mix comedy with gut wrenching drama. Her line readings are flawless and she rises WAY above the material.

INSTANT FAMILY is heartfelt and enjoyable, the cast is terrific. The message is powerful and well played by an unpredictable final act.

It could have been a great holiday meal without the Wahlburgers, but I'll give it a B- thanks to Cusack, Martindale, Byrne and those kids!

I'd buy another ticket just to see Hagerty again in the scene after the kids have done her makeup with Sharpies. She has not lost that 'Airplane" timing!

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