Mark Wahlberg, Isabela Moner
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…this film’s heart is undeniably in the right place.
Writer/director Sean Anders has been responsible for an awful lot of garbage over the last decade. From the tone-deaf nausea of the Daddy’s Home series to the outright abomination that is That’s My Boy, the man has been synonymous with misery masquerading as cinema. And then this film happened.
Even without the initial hint of this being based on actual events, it’s clear from the offset that parenthood and adoption are topics very close to the filmmaker’s heart, as he shows an unprecedented level of care and tenderness in telling this story of a suburban couple who decide to become foster parents to three children. The acting on its own is a gale storm worth of fresh air, with Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne hitting abrasive and caring with equal vigour. That said, they both end up being bowled over by Isabela Moner as the eldest child, who gives a performance so down-to-earth, funny and heart-breaking that her upcoming role in the Dora The Explorer movie is already starting to look like the lead role she outright deserves to have.
Beyond just the chops of the cast, the way Anders and co-writer John Morris dispel a lot of unfortunate stereotypes concerning the foster-care system is highly commendable, actively painting a target on those who see it as little more than the refuse bin for drug addicts and abusers. They still admit some of the inherent lost-in-the-system problems, but the act of foster care itself is made into something noble.
It even manages to avoid the frequent hiccup of the ending, with previous films involving custody disputes rarely handled well. No spoilers here, but the way it nimbly dodges most of the bigger potholes with that setup is frankly astounding, coming from the same filmmaker who once opened on paedophilia as a joke in That’s My Boy. Then again, given how this film also deals with that topic, it seems even Anders has realised his mistakes.
Now, with all that said, this still has some of the same tonal issues that have plagued his previous efforts. The jokes may be rationalised as a defence mechanism to prevent parents from going insane, but for a PG effort, the gags too often venture into the cringe-worthy and highly unpleasant. However, just when it seems like the grounded-into-paste running jokes threaten to overwhelm the entire production, in walk exceptionally heart-warming and even tear-jerking moments, showing that this film’s heart is undeniably in the right place.
This is not a perfect film. Do its jokes leave something to be desired? Yeah. Do they sometimes feel out-of-place, like the disjointed Joan Cusack cameo? Absolutely. But none of that can take away from how redemptive this film is, both for Sean Anders and for the many actors in it who have had a bit of a rough year. He finally made a good movie; that’s cause enough for celebration.