Following their collaboration on Daddy’s Home, director Sean Anders again teams with Mark Wahlberg for another comedy set within a unconventional family unit. In this instance, the blended family of their previous collaboration makes way for a group of foster kids placed into the care of a clueless couple whose good intentions are overwhelmed by the sheer complexity of what they have taken on. Wahlberg and Australia’s Rose Byrne are the couple who take on a trio of troubled foster kids in a somewhat predictable, but still reasonably enjoyable romp that, despite appearing well-intentioned, is somewhat problematic in its depictions of those within the foster system. Ever since her breakout comedy performance in Bridesmaids, Byrne has taken on a series of comedic roles, often as an exasperated and/or disaffected wife/mother out of her depth or in the midst of an existential crisis of some kind and forced to take stock of her life (Bad Neighbours, Juliet, Naked), and this is more of the same. Ellie (Byrne) and Pete (Wahlberg) are a ridiculously attractive couple who seem to have it all except, of course, a brood of kiddies to warm the cockles of their hearts. After all, you cannot be a fully-fledged adult and a meaningful contributor to the world in which you live unless you have children….apparently.
So, of course, Ellie and Pete decide that adoption is the way to go and set out to find themselves the perfect new addition to their family. It is during an adoption Open Day – a gathering that operates along the same lines as a livestock sale in that the children are literally put on display in a bid to impress prospective buyers parents – that they meet Lizzy (Isabela Moner), a feisty teenager with a chip on her shoulder and two younger siblings whose quirks cause all manner of stress to our clueless couple. Add in a couple of eccentric grandmothers (Margo Martindale and Julie Hagerty) and a straight talking foster care worker (Octavia Spencer) and you have all the ingredients for a riotous romp, right? Well, yes, kinda. Sure, there are some genuinely funny moments, but given the chaos and dysfunction of the foster care system and the very serious reasons why so many children find themselves in the system (which is brought to bear by the fact that Lizzie’s drug addict mother is in jail, having set their house on fire because she left a crack pipe burning), Anders does try to temper the humour with more serious moments, but these come across as tokenistic and a little patronising.
The various behaviours of the three siblings are played for laughs – Lita (Julianna Gamiz) will eat nothing but potato chips, Juan (Gustavo Quiroz) is overly sensitive and clumsy – which only serves to undermine the seriousness of the circumstances that have triggered these behaviours. In fact, the most disappointing element of the film is the way in which all of the children, including those that we never meet but hear about in the regular support group sessions that Ellie and Pete attend, are presented. Every one of them seems to be strange or dangerous or problematic in some way and, whilst many children who find themselves in foster care have experienced some kind of emotional or psychological trauma that impacts their behaviour, we never get to see things from the other side; that is we never find out exactly why these children might be acting out. It is all about the parents and their ‘sacrifice’ for taking on such burdensome brats.
The two leads possess a strong on-screen chemistry and hold their own despite the best efforts of Martindale and Spencer to upstage them. The kids are suitably cutesy to tug at the heartstrings, with Moner (Sicario: Day of the Soldado) having been cast as Dora the Explorer in the live action version that was shot in Australia last year. If you can see past the problematic portrayals of those within the foster care system, you will no doubt find yourself chuckling at the cluelessness of a couple whose privileged upper middle-class existence has done little to prepare them for the realities of raising children, especially those from a world far removed from anything they could possibly understand.