Director Sean Anders based this screenplay on his own real-life experience adopting kids. He proved he can deliver the comedic goods with the surprisingly funny Hot Tub Time Machine and Daddy’s Home (we won’t talk about the horrible Daddy’s Home 2), and he brings Mark Wahlberg along again as a good husband, who is surprised to see his wife (Rose Byrne) looking at an adoption website. When she spies him getting teary eyed looking at all these tykes, how can your heart not be warmed? Sure, that means the movie is going to get manipulative. It’s going to play like a TV sitcom (which often made me think of the much better characters and writing in Modern Family). Yet it all ended up working with my wife and I, despite the many complaints I have with the movie.
They go to meet with a couple of social workers (played by two actresses I love — Oscar winner Octavia Spencer, and brilliant, dry comedian Tig Notaro). Their good cop/bad cop routine always works. Although you are left wondering why, with all the various future parents we meet at this group, they play one character for a cheap laugh. She wants to adopt an African-American kid that is going to be a college athlete, as if she’s living out her Blind Side fantasy. That character didn’t fit and creates a vibe that isn’t right for this film.
There’s also a gay couple, an overly religious couple, and a few other stereotypes. Yet the humor of them all together begrudgingly works, so most audiences will probably let that all slide.
There are a lot of comedy cliches, but at least Byrne does a nice nuanced turn as a wife/mom growing increasingly frustrated. She did that hysterically well in Neighbors, too.
Lizzie is the teen they adopted, and she’s played well by actress/singer Isabela Moner. They should’ve toned down her rebellious attitude a bit, though. It worked brilliantly when she first confronts her parents as they’re looking for the right kid to adopt, but it grows a bit tiresome as the movie plays out. Her younger brother also needed to be toned down. He’s always a nervous wreck, and also so clumsy, everywhere he goes he gets hurt. The younger sister is perfect, as a kid that throws tantrums, but quickly loves her new surroundings and is soon calling Wahlberg “daddy.” Again, how can you sit there and not have your heart glow? It also probably perfectly conveys how a youngster would feel weird about being in a new home, especially after having lived in a bad environment. So often during this movie, I had tears running down my face, despite it’s manipulative nature.
The two grandmothers are played by actresses that are always welcome on screen. Margo Martindale, who is so proud of the grandma shirt she’s been given, and Julie Hagerty (who those of us older folks remember from Lost in America, Airplane, and What About Bob?).
For every scene in this that’s cliche and doesn’t work, there are two scenes that do work. The Thanksgiving scene is great. There’s a fun camping montage while George Harrison’s “What is Life” plays (it could’ve done without the cheesy ballads during certain scenes).
One funny line is made funnier by the recent Elizabeth Warren DNA test that is a happy accident. The mom gets mad at her teenage daughter and is yelling at her and screams, “You better not mess with me. I’m ⅛ Comanche!”
It’s also funny when the teenager first arrives at their home and she thinks they may be in over their heads. She tells her husband after doing her laundry, “She has thong underwear. This is some next level sh*t.”
This is a movie that I’m guessing a lot of critics will pick apart, and they’ll be right in their criticisms of it. Audiences are going to love it, though.
3 stars out of 5, and I’m being generous.