Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview


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My Review of INSTANT FAMILY

Instant Family, rated PG-13
***

Instant Family is a pro-family movie inspired by a true story that has some content issues. The film is directed and co-written by Sean Anders (Daddy’s Home, Daddy’s Home 2), and is based on his families’ story of adopting three children out of the foster care system. John Morris (Daddy’s Home, Daddy’s Home 2) co-wrote the film with Anders. The film features a strong cast.
Pete, played by two-time Oscar nominee Mark Wahlberg (The Fighter, The Departed), and his wife Ellie, played by two-time Golden Globe nominee Rose Byrne (Damages), earn a good living by buying and flipping houses.  They don’t have any children, but enjoy their life, which includes playing golf and enjoying Meatball, their Bernese Mountain dog. After a comment by Ellie’s brother in law, Ellie and Pete both look at foster children on a website, and their hearts melt. They decide to look into fostering an older child in hopes of adopting them.
Pete and Ellie work with a pair of social workers, the straight-laced Sharon, played by Emmy nominee Tig Notaro (Tig Notaro: Boyish Girl Interrupted) and the free spirit Karen, played by Oscar winner Octavia Spencer (The Help). Sharon and Karen teach an eight-week foster care certification course that Pete and Ellie attend. Others in the class are an infertile Christian couple, a homosexual couple, and a single woman who wants to adopt an African American boy who might play in the NFL.
Pete and Ellie end up interested in the feisty 15-year-old Latino, Lizzy, played by Isabela Moner, only to find out that Lizzy has two younger siblings: a sensitive boy named Juan, played by Gustavo Quiroz, and a young temperamental girl named Lita, played by Julianna Gamiz. Lizzy has practically raised her younger siblings since they have a drug-addicted mother, who is now in jail. Eventually, Pete and Ellie decide that they need to foster all three.
At first, during the “honeymoon period”, things go well with the new family, but that doesn’t last long. Pete and Ellie decide that this is going to be much harder than they ever imagined, as they share and hear from others in their foster parent support group.
Three-time Emmy winner Margo Martindale (The Americans, Justified) plays the likeable Grandma Sandy, Pete’s mother.  Julie Hagerty (Airplane films), plays Jan, Ellie’s mother. Two-time Oscar nominee Joan Cusack (In & Out, Working Girl), plays Mrs. Howard, a kind neighbor of Pete and Ellie’s in a small role.
Themes include family, love, adoption, and faith (there are a few prayer scenes in the film), and a Christian couple wanting to foster a child.
Content concerns unfortunately include a significant amount of adult language, including several abuses of God’s and Jesus’ names. The language was not necessary, and the film could have been much more family friendly if it had not been included. There are also some sexual references in the film.
Instant Family is an entertaining film, at times funny and at others touching and very serious.  It is inspired by a true story, is somewhat predictable, and has some content concerns, most notably a significant amount of adult language. The film may encourage some to consider serving as foster parents and possibly adopting, though as the film points out, the objective of the foster care system is the preservation of the family, not adoption.


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My Review of DOG DAYS

Dog Days, rated PG
** ½

Dog Days is a feel-good romantic comedy featuring several characters and their dogs set during the summer in Los Angeles. The film is directed by three-time Emmy nominee Ken Marino (Children’s Hospital, Burning Love) and written by Elissa Matsueda (The Miracle Season) and Emmy nominee Erica Oyama (Burning Love).  The film had a budget of just $10 million.

****SPOILER ALERT*****
There’s a number of stories going on at the same time – here’s a summary.  Elizabeth, played by Nina Dobrev (The Vampire Diaries) is the host of a morning Los Angeles television show. Life is going well until her live-in boyfriend Peter cheats on her. That leads to her and her dog Sam going into depressions. She and Sam go to see the overpriced dog therapist Danielle, played by Emmy nominee Tig Notaro (Tig Notaro: Boyish Girl Interrupted). Former National Football League star Jimmy Johnston, played by Tone Bell, has a dog named Brandy and is a guest on Elizabeth’s show shortly after the breakup. Their “chemistry” on screen leads the producer to hire Johnston to co-host the show, much to the disappointment of Elizabeth.
Walter, played by Ron Cephas Jones (This is Us), is a lonely widower, who used to be a professor at UCLA. He enjoys his overweight pug Mabel, and has a few run-ins with a 16-year old pizza delivery boy Tyler, played by Finny Wolfhard (It, Strangers Things). The second run-in results in Mabel running away. Tyler offers to help Walter find Mabel and in turn Walter offers to tutor the fatherless Tyler at no cost.
Mabel ends up being found by Amelia, played by Elizabeth Phoenix Caro, a young girl recently adopted by Grace, played by Eva Longoria (Desperate Housewives), and Kurt, played by four-time Emmy winner Rob Corddry (Children’s Hospital).           
Amelia had been having a hard time adjusting to her new family and Mabel, who she names “Mr. Snuggles” is just what she and her new parents need.
Tara, played by Vanessa Hudgens (High School Musical) works in a coffee shop but wants to do work that matters. She also has a crush on Dr. Mike, played by Michael Cassidy (Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice), the hunky veterinarian whose office is across the street.  A frequent customer, the socially uncomfortable Garrett, played by Jon Bass has a crush on Tara, but Tara doesn’t notice that. Tara finds a stray chihuahua who she names Gertrude. Her apartment building doesn’t allow dogs. Garrett runs New Tricks, a dog adoption business and says that he will take Gertrude. Tara, looking for more purpose in her life, begins to volunteer at New Tricks.
Dax, played by Adam Pally, lives in the same apartment building as Tara. Dax is in a band named Frunk, and isn’t very responsible, forgetting to even show up for his sister Ruth’s baby shower, which he agreed to DJ. Ruth, played by Jessica St. Clair (Bridesmaids) and husband Greg, played by Thomas Lennon, have twins and ask Dax to take their labradoodle Charlie for a while as they adjust to their new babies.
End of plot summary – Did you catch all of that?
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Content concerns include some adult topics (breakups, living together, romance), and a number of misuses of God’s name (“Oh my God”).  Themes include the family, motherhood, friendship and adoption.
I have missed going to see romantic comedies at the movies because they haven’t made very many lately, but this one is a bit sappy.  At times this film has the feel of a Lifetime or Hallmark television movie. That could be because the director, writers and many of the actors involved are best known for their television performances. The film includes a solid cast and the writing is average at best. The film is also overly long at nearly two hours.
Dog Days is an enjoyable, feel-good film that is somewhat predictable, but has some positive messages. Because of the adult topics included I wouldn’t recommend the film for very young children.