Movie Review: “Shoplifters” pass it down, generation to generation in this Japanese drama


“Shoplifters” is an award-winning Japanese drama about a little seen corner of that country’s culture — the working poor. And by “working,” I mean day labor in construction, sex club performer or ironer at a dry cleaners.

But as the title suggests, this extended family, three generations living in the hovel that used to be a nicer house where grandma still lives, steal. That’s their side hustle. Food in the market, toys in the local convenience store, “Just wear it out” department store clothes, fishing gear, chips in a slot machine casino — if they don’t want to pay for it, the Shibatas don’t.

Just as we’re making up our mind about them, with the patriarch (veteran character actor Lily Franky) giving hand signals to beautiful but cagey tween Shota (Jyo Kairi) so that they can loot their local supermarket, something happens to alter that perception.

A little girl (Miyu Sasaki) is all alone, weeping in a house. No, she doesn’t know where her mommy or daddy are. Yes, she’s hungry.

“Send her home,” wife Nobuyo (Sakura Andô) gripes. “We’re not an orphanage…can’t get involved.”

But Grandma (Kirin Kiki) dotes on the five year old. “You’re covered in scars,” she notices. And when Mom and Dad try to return little Yuki to her house, the screaming brawl echoing through the windows melts even unsentimental Nobuyo’s heart.

“You don’t grow up to care for others” in this world, Nobuyo admits. But she does.

Writer-director Hirokazu Koreeda (“Our Little Sister”) cleverly uses Yuki as our access to this world, letting her observe the techniques father has passed to son, and the working lives of everyone here.

Dad gets hurt on his day-labor job, Mom faces layoffs at the dry cleaning plant — beginning with “work share” schemes.

“So everybody gets a little poorer.”

And then there’s Aki (Mayu Matsuoka), grandma’s favorite and Mom’s sexy sister. She’s bubbly fun and she brings money in by working as a “hostess” at those infamous Japanese sex clubs — putting on a schoolgirl’s uniform and putting on a show for lonely, damaged men sitting on the other side of a window, up-selling them on more personal contact for “chat.”

Dad makes it his business to instruct the kids on the family business. He grouses about the price of a window-cracking hammer to his boy — “Very expensive…if you pay for it.”

Someday, we’re going to see what he needs that hammer for. At some point, the new daughter’s “missing girl” status becomes a problem. Reluctant Dad is going to be pulled back into a sex life he’d lost interest in.

And that’s when Koreeda starts unraveling our first AND second impressions about this family, with relationships explained, motives upended as the walls of society — police, social services and others — close in around the Shibata clan.

Details stick with you — Shota teaching Yuri how to unplug the security detector at the door so he can pilfer fishing gear, Grandma revealing her own propensities as she nimbly lifts chips at a casino or grifts the children of her late husband’s later marriage. The elderly shop owner sees the older “brother” bringing baby sister into the game, and guilts him with free popsicles.

“Don’t make your sister do it,” he says (in Japanese, with English subtitles).

The cynicism of one and all is obvious long before Dad hobbles home after his injury. Workman’s comp? “It’d be better if you BROKE it, not just cracked (his ankle) it,” his wife complains.


“Shoplifters,” winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes, is a film acted with great sensitivity, a rough story delicately told. Koreed discretely keeps injuries, arrests and other “big moments” just off camera, allowing the natural drama of the milieu and the characters inhabiting it to carry the film.

That allows “Shoplifters” to transcend its Grifting: How It’s Done genre conventions and make its larger statement with ease. Not all parents give birth, and even the sketchiest upbringing can get across the Big Life Lessons every child needs to learn.

MPAA Rating: R for some sexual content and nudity

Cast: Jyo Kairi, Kirin Kiki, Lily Franky, Mayu Matsuoka

Credits: Written and directed by Hirokazu Koreed. A Magnolia release.

Running time: 2:01

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Movie Review: “Ralph Breaks the Internet,” Disney repeats itself


You’ve seen the best moment from “Ralph Breaks the Internet,” the sequel to Disney’s charming, “Wreck it Ralph,” an homage to vintage video games in a post-arcade world.

It’s the scene with all the anachronistic but ready-to-be-empowered Disney princesses and you probably caught it on, you know, the Internet. 

Nothing else in “Ralph Breaks the Internet” comes close to the giddy joy that seeing the Mouse mess around with the ways it princess-spoiled generations of American girls via “Snow White,” “Cinderella,” “The Little Mermaid,” etc.

That’s the knock on this covers-much-the-same-ground sequel, an hour and 50 dullish but watchable minutes surrounding its best gag. It’s a movie that deprives us of the curiosity that Sugar Rush racer-girl Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) describes when she realizes her game in the aged Litvak Arcade is busted and may be unfixable, “that not knowing what comes next feeling.”

It’s a film whose best jokes are sight gags, but sight gags visualizing what eBay, Snapchat and Youtube look like from inside the web, mocking Internet Economics and the sorts of web content that lands “likes” and “shares.” These are plainly aimed at adults.

Kids, especially ones tested by the nostalgia and video game visualizations of “Wreck it Ralph,” are going to find this a chore.

Vanellope’s Sugar Rush game controller breaks at a point “just when my life was perfect,” Ralph (John C. Reilly) complains, thinking only of himself. Vanellope? She’s still glitchy, but she was getting kind of bored. Winning every race will do that.

With Old Man Litvak about to unplug the machine for good, the arcade’s odd couple access wifi and hit the Web — Ralph, to find and over-bid (on eBay) for that busted wheel, Vanellope to find new adventures, maybe even a new home.


Gal Gadot voices Shank, a hellion driving stolen cars in a “Grand Theft Auto” knock-off, Taraji P. Henson voices Yesss, who can help Vanellope and Ralph figure out how to make money on the Internet (spam and pop-up “Wanna get rich playing video games?” come-ons get their due) to buy what they need to go home.

“Are you the Al Gore?”

“I’m the ALgorhythm!”

There’s a fun cheap shot at Pixar’s “Brave,” a dark dive into the room where “comments” on your content (web videos) dwell and a third act that outstays its welcome.

Not every movie that comes out needs to be shorter, but animated films for kids do and “Ralph” definitely does. More princesses, less Internet, I say.

“It’s so big,” Vanellope complains of the visually dazzling World Wide Web. “It just goes on forever and ever.”

As does their kids’ movie about it. I mean, I got the jokes and laughed at them. But I’m not 9, and even I was thinking “Enough already.”



MPAA Rating: PG for some action and rude humor

Cast: The voices of John C. Reilly, Sarah Silverman, Taraji P. Henson, Gal Gadot, Jane Lynch, Jack McBrayer, Mandy Moore

Credits:Directed by Phil Johnston, Rich Moore, script by Phil Johnson and Pamela Ribon. A Walt Disney release.

Running time: 1:52

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Preview, Julianne Moore takes to the dance floor in search of love in “Gloria Bell”

Now that we’ve scratched Julianne Moore off that short list of “Best Actresses never to win an Oscar” (Glenn Close, Margo — are you next?) she can get back to the business of making terrific indie dramedies in between the supporting work in major motion pictures.

She’s over 50, and that’s what she plays in “Gloria Bell,” a 50something looking for another shot at love in LA’s dance club scene, which isn’t used to 50somethings who aren’t delusional “Real Housewives” making the scene.

“Gloria Bell” opens in March.

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Steve McQueen collects “Widows” raves, cries “Racism,” and steps in it


We will know later tonight if “12 Years a Slave” director Steve McQueen has a new hit on his hands with the heist thriller “Widows.”

But we do know he’s rolling in rapturous notices for a decent — not great — genre pic. Almost universal praise for the cast, the direction, etc. — lots of love for Viola Davis, as always.

McQueen, however, looks at these reviews and sees trouble — “inherent racism” in the way critics address or pay attention to the interracial marriage (Davis/Liam Neeson) at the heart of the story, or the widows of color who drive the plot.

I’ve glanced over my review and others and cannot see what he is talking about. As he gives no examples, it’s a bit of a head  scratcher until you consider the possibility he’s doing a lot of press, sees a lot of white faces, and figures he’ll get away with a swipe that he doesn’t have to back up. Yeah, I’m saying he’s talking through his arse.

Specifics? Evidence?

He could make a stronger case declaring that critics all-too-often throw extra love on a filmmaker’s LAST film when her or his next one comes out. Yeah, that happened here. Maybe critics bend over backwards to rave up the work of a talented BLACK director just to prove they’re not racist (in their minds). You could make that case, too. “Grading on the curve,” “benefit of the doubt,” etc.

Without pointing out examples of exactly what he’s talking about, he’s just blowing Fox News-style smoke. Steve McQueen is imagining a “War on ‘Widows'” that doesn’t exist.

But what about “inherent racism” in “Widows” itself? Anybody looking at that?

The one abusive relationship in the film has Jon Bernthal as the abuser. Making a point about Jews, there, Steve?

And how much of a racist Black Male (Brit) stereotype is it for you to make the sex kitten, bombshell character a vavavoom blonde (Elizabeth Debicki)? We all know what Cleavon Little said in “Blazing Saddles,” and the stereotype he was sending up.

I like that this Indiewire piece (read the comments) summons up Brie Larson’s hilarious “white male critics” attack/defense for “A Wrinkle in Time.” Say what now? She was making a point about perspective, a “Venus and Mars” take on how girls embraced the soft and squishy and dramatically inept but politically correct as all get out “Wrinkle,” directed by Ava DuVernay, a veteran of a thousand jobs in Hollywood, none of which suggested she was a gifted storyteller.

No Brie, an Academy Award for an indie thriller doesn’t earn you a pass when it comes to intellectually rigorous arguments any more than it immunizes you from taking the money for “Skull Island.”

And no, criticism is not diverse and never has been. Thanks to the collapse of most of the decent paying gigs with the disappearance of legacy media, that’s not going to change. Attempts by Rottentomatoes and others to anoint Major New Female/People of Color voices have failed for a variety of reasons, the ugliest being their anointed ones just don’t have it.

I reviewed “Widows” the way I pick critics I read — on merit. Race doesn’t figure into it on that scale. It’s a movie by movie, critic by critic “content/value/talent” thing that doesn’t pull back far enough to fret, “Well, why are so many critics this race or that gender?” or “Why are so many people in film Jewish 100 years after ‘An Empire of Their Own’?” or “Why is Michael Peña the only Hispanic male to land acting work?”

Because colorblindness has always been the goal. And pulling some random accusation out of your butt over a movie that’s, if anything, OVERpraised, is just stepping in it.


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Movie Review — “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” is the most wearying Wizarding World of all


Murky to the point of sleep-inducing, “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” is a lot like watching an entire Wizarding World movie through Newt Scamander’s tumbling red forelock.

A parade of back stories involving familiar surnames (Lestrange, Dumbledore), endless exposition and the usual parade of magical critters and apocalyptic wizard fights, it suffers from unfortunate production design that presents most of its two hours and 15 minutes in gloom, fog and underlit murk.

Warner’s decision to sign over this franchise to British director David Yates may still look good on their bottom line. But this lumbering, forlorn cry for “Eye drops, get me EYE DROPS” shows he’s bored with it all and not growing new wit or storytelling skills as he cashes their checks.

Johnny Depp signing on as a murderous elitist and deadly demagogue pays off only in his look — mismatched eye-colors, a shock of whitish punk rock hair. “His message is very seductive” those worried about the escaped monster Grindelwald declare. No, it isn’t.

Eddie Redmayne returns as Newt, summoned to see Dumbledore (Jude Law) on the gargoyled rooftops of 1920s London, given the mission to go and find Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), a confused youngish wizard looking for a lost “chosen one” sibling. Is he in foggy London, Lost Generation Paris or Jazz Age New York?


A veritable checklist of challengers/helpers connect along the way, from Newt’s government bureaucrat brother (Callum Turner) to circus sideshow changeling Nagini (Claudia Kim), Leta Lestrange (Zoë Kravitz) to the returning Queenie (Alison Sobol) and her goofy Muggle love, Jacob (Dan Fogler, always good for a laugh).

“You were supposed to be OBLIVIATED!”

Newt’s fondness for Fantastic Beasts (remember, he’s researching a book) pays off, repeatedly. And the more his brother and others (Katherine Waterston returns as Tina) insist, “You have to choose a side,” the more Newt digs in with “I don’t DO sides.”

J.K. Rowling tries to wrestle messages about “seductive” demagogues and their mesmerized followers in, and raises the stakes (as always) with the consequences of human/wizard weakness in the face of personal, moral and physical challenges.

But by the time that payoff arrives, Yates has all but put us to sleep with visual and plot clutter, darkness, critters and chat.

I’m not a huge fan of this series, but this has to be the worst of the lot, more agonizing to sit through than the page-by-page “true to the book” bores by Chris Columbus, duller than the weakest of the artless Yates pictures.

At times, you’d swear the guy was muddying up the images just to get out of this job-for-life.


MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some sequences of fantasy action

Cast: Eddie Redmayne, Johnny Depp, Zoë Kravitz, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Claudia Kim, Callum Turner and Jude Law

Credits: Directed by David Yates, script by J.K. Rowling. A Warner Brothers release.

Running time: 2:14

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Next screening? “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald”

Warners is a bit late showing this in my market, so there are reviews aplenty already out there for this J.K. Rowling sequel.

Will I be the one to tip the Johnny Depp “Potterworld” picture into positive or negative territory?

I have been lukewarm on this whole Wizarding World of Movies, with only a couple of the films made by very good directors (Alfonso Cuaron and Mike Newell) sticking in the mind.

There’s too much “Let’s pause and admire that beautiful digital dragon or gryffon ” in these movies, endless populating of the “Fantastic Beasts” and too much appreciation of them to let the film’s sing. But we shall see what we see when we see it, right?



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Movie Review: “Anchor and Hope”


Motoring the canals of Greater London provides a charming backdrop to “Anchor and Hope,” a generally pedestrian romance about a lesbian couple’s struggles to have a baby.

Carlos Marques-Marcet (“10,000 Km”_ has lovely locations and a good cast that you can’t blame him for the funereal saunter that he uses to pace their story. It doesn’t help that this general scenario has been the subject of lots of episodic TV (more TV shows than movies) so that every obstacle and setback feels familiar to the point of worn out.

We meet Kat and Eva (“Harry Potter” veteran Natalia Tena and Oona Chaplin of “Game of Thrones”) as they bury their cat. Chorizo was so beloved that they tie up for the burial, and get Eva’s “wacky” mother (Geraldine Chaplin) to chat some Native America/Buddhist mashup gibberish over the dear departed.

And that sets Eva off. She wants her children to know “the full extent of the madness” of her odd, funny and unique mother. She’s 30ish and figures the time is now. The plan? Get their mutual friend, the Barcelona babe-magnet Roger (David Verdaguer of “10,000 Km” and “Summer ’93”) to come stay with them a couple of weeks — and for ONLY a couple of weeks. A little artificial insemination, and voila, they’ll start a family.

But Kat, who pilots the boat, lives in her leather jacket and loves Eva madly, isn’t sure about all this — especially as “the plan” was discussed and approved in drunken reverie.

Roger? Hey, as long as there’s porn he can watch in the head (toilet) while doing his part, he’s along for the ride — for however long it takes.

Marques-Marcet, who co-wrote the script, gets the most out of this promising set-up and comically game cast in the film’s earliest scenes. Roger, the ladies man, wears a Wolverine beard and a leer that no mere Londoner can resist — apparently.

He speaks English to Eva (mostly) and Spanish to his old buddy and bar-cruising wing-woman Kat, and it’s rare that he’s not joking around, even about the job at hand.

“What’s funnier than a dead kid? A dead kid dressed like a clown.” It’s funnier in Spanish.

Want some food?

“English food? No thanks.”

There is drinking and inseminating and nostalgic sing-along and bump and grind sessions to Inner Circle among the festivities. Roger goes ashore to charm the local ladies, and his bubbly carousing sucks Kat back into an old life that Eva was sure she’d left behind.

But the fun fades as the film, broken into titled chapters — “I: We Can Get Another Cat,” “III, A Kidney Bean,” etc — and “Anchor and Hope” drifts and then runs aground. Cute moments of baby proofing the vessel (boats are built somewhat baby-proof), emptying the bar, for instance, are skipped past as Eva and Roger get “Oh, Susannah” sentimental at the piano.

The players are pretty good, with the Elder Chaplin and Tena standing out, and Verdaguer making a fine rascal to the extent the script lets him become one.

The boat-handling, including hand-turning the ancient canal locks, is a great detail, the shoreside scenery lovely even when it is tumbledown industrial.


And there are laughs in Eva’s political arguments for reproducing.

“Homophobes and religious fanatics are having babies. Reasonable people have to have them, too!”

Roger’s many conquests include Jinx, a black woman (Lara Rossi) who comes back to the boat only to see her lover disappear into the head for another shot at making a deposit for Eva. Jinx, who endures the Spaniard’s comparisons of her to chocolate, just rolls with it.

“Listen to him go!”

“You get used to it.”

The pre-insemination interview Eva carries out (“Do you have any psychopaths in your family?”) is a tired device in such movies and isn’t funny here.

That’s the case with too much of “Anchor and Hope” to make it worth recommending. Sure, there’s a novel setting and hot sex, here and there. But the talk turns toward the tedious and the jokes, the situations and the romantic longing never draw us in. The viewer isn’t so much a part of the story as a bystander, curious and occasionally titillated, but rarely moved.

MPAA Rating: unrated, nudity

Cast: Natalia Tena, Oona Chaplin, Geraldine Chaplin, David Verdaguer, Lara Rossi

Credits:Directed by Carlos Marques-Marcet, script by Jules Nurrish and Carlos Marques-Marcet. A Wolfe release.

Running time: 1:53

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Movie Review: Life on the fringe is lived in “Mobile Homes”


Imogen Poots never disappoints.

Whatever role she takes, whichever indie film project engages her passion, her signing on the dotted line always makes for a fascinating peek into an gritty world beyond most of our experience.

“Mobile Homes” joins “Sweet Virginia,” “A Country Called Home,” “Green Room” and and “Frank & Lola” among her recent walks on the down and out side. She plays Ali Dresden, a mom with a decade or more of ongoing bad decisions making her fear for the future of her little boy (screen newcomer Frank Oulton).

When we meet her, she’s at social services on the wintry day on the Canadian plains. She’s trying to place her eight or nine year old son in foster care.


“We don’t have one.”

She won’t admit to “abuse or neglect,” so the social worker’s hands are tied. And as she storms out, the receptionist says “Your kid just left.”

“He knows how to get home.”

“Home” is where the ancient Chevy van is. With boyfriend Evan (her “Green Room” co-star Callum Turner), who adopted Bone or so she says, they live on the road and on the run — cheap motels, breaking into empty houses and squatting, “dine and dash” meals at diners, transporting fighting cocks to the hinterlands where entertainment is scarce and fighting roosters, illegal or not, are valued.

Bone covets one rooster he keeps as a pet, shaving him for fights and generally learning the ropes from Evan, who never met a scam or hustle he didn’t like.

Ali is smitten, even if she knows that Evan’s bad news, that any given “Go check my brake lights” order could mean he’ll ditch her and leave them in the lurch. A kid needs more care than they’re giving him, but Evan just sees the boy as a gimmick for starting a cock fight, a decoy for their “dine and dash” adventures and a “safe” way of selling drugs to the truckers, farmers, drunks and low-lifes who show up for cock fights.

A police raid separates the “family,” and Ali and Bone make their escape hiding out in a manufactured house being delivered to the middle of nowhere. Grizzled truck driver and trailer park handyman Robert (Callum Keith Rennie) is furious at their stowing away, but sympathetic to a woman with a child. Could this be their second chance?

There’s a whiff of “The Florida Project” to writer-director Vladimir de Fontenay’s (“Memoria”) depiction of a free-range kid, making his own fun, making his own way and making us fear for the neglect or ill use that threatens his future and his very life. Young Oulton makes Bone introverted, a child who doesn’t know what he should fear and what could happen every time he grabs a fighting chicken the wrong way, dashes out of the van mid-fight or works a room with a bag of drugs to sell. It’s a guileless performance which gives us a taste of the life Bone might live when he finally gets to play with kids his own age.

Turner makes Evan manic, impulsive, potentially violent and predatory, with barely the native cunning needed to survive like this. He plays with the boy, but only to keep him happy and useful to him.

“We’ll just use Bone when we need’em.”  Handing him dime bags, he flatters the boy with his new drug dealing responsibility — “This is big boy stuff!”

He is drooling malevolence, but we kind of get what Ali sees in him. Poots lets us see the desperation in her, the judgment that vanishes from her face whenever her man gives her a look or makes his move — in the van, motels or motel pools.

And Rennie gives Robert an edge, too, a randy redneck who might not be all that noble after he’s had a few drinks. He makes a good tour guide and salesman for the trailers her transports when Ali mocks them as “Playmobil houses.”

“It’s a house. A home is what you build inside of it.”


Director de Fontenay has a great eye for detail — filling “Mobile Homes” with inside cock-fighting particulars and manufactured housing factory work, roadhouses and after hours “clubs” where the chicken fighting takes place.

And Poots, as always, makes a vivid impression of a fearful, impulsive woman playing out her string, pausing only now and then to consider how the consequences of her actions (predictable though they are) aren’t just something she will face. There’s a little boy growing up too fast, too wrong, too dangerously for the risks she’s taking not just with her freedom and life, but his as well. Poots makes Ali’s choices, impulsive to the last, gritty and believable, even when we can see what she cannot — how badly this all could end.


MPAA Rating: unrated, violence, drugs, sex, profanity

Cast: Imogen Poots, Callum Turner, Frank Oulton, Callum Keith Rennie

Credits:Written and directed by Vladimir de Fontenay. An Uncork’d Entertainment release.

Running time: 1:45

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Movie Review: “Instant Family” — warm fuzzies and rude laughs in the world of adoption


Mark Wahlberg knows better than to do star comedies built around whatever character he’s playing. Buddy comedies are what work for him, mostly ones co-starring Will Ferrell. It takes the right “buddy” to get him wound up, antic and funny.

Rose Byrne takes on that role in “Instant Family,” an in-over-their-heads adoption comedy from Wahlberg’s “Daddy’s Home” team. And the two, playing overmatched adoptive parents, really wind each other up. The manic patter, voices rising in volume, the eyes bugging out hysterics generated by these two — especially Byrne (“Bridesmaids,” “Neighbors”) — deliver big laughs in between the warm fuzzies of what turns out to be a sentimental but sober look at adoption, with lots and lots of swearing.

Oh yeah, Hollywood’s reflection of the culture it works in has been free and loose with the PG-13 profanity, parents cursing around, cursing to and cursing-out their kids in screen comedies the past few years. It’s a reflection of what you run into in theme parks and fast food joints. It’s as if “The Bad News Bears” had replaced every child-rearing book on the market as the instruction manual for how to talk to your children.

In “Instant Family,” the cold slap of “This is what a FAMILY holiday comedy sounds like, now” sinks in when little first-grader Lita (Julianna Gamiz) turns to her adoptive mom, who is denying her a new cut-rate Barbie at the store because she already has a more “body positive” dolly at home, lets loose.

“You body positive whore!”

Kids cussing — low-hanging fruit, but always worth a laugh.

Ellie and Pete are successful California house-flippers, never giving much thought to kids until her competitive sister (Allyn Rachel) and obnoxious brother-in-law (Tom Segura) bait them into a fight over their latest too-many-bedrooms-for-them-to-need fixer-upper. That’s right, the Wagners are shamed into wanting kids.

And Ellie, trying to ease herself into this idea, makes the mistake of checking out “Who’s up for adoption” on a website, and next thing you know they’re taking “certification” classes from Octavia Spencer and Tig Notaro, making tactless cracks comparing kids to dogs (that website uses the “Adopt this Dog” website model), insulting their fellow prospective parents and swinging between petrified and “What’s the big deal?” with regard to the Big Change that is Coming.

Their parenting on a dare extends to who they zero in on at the local “adoption fair.” Yes, they’re totally a thing and yes, that’s exactly what shelters do with dogs in need of a home. Nobody else will talk to the teenage foster children, so that’s what Self-Righteous Pete and Ellie will do. That’s a cute running gag, that these two like how adoption makes them look generous, magnanimous even.

Sassy Lizzie (Isabella Moner of “Sicario: Day of the Soldado” and “Transformers: The Last Night”) doesn’t scare them off. Even the news that she comes with two younger siblings is just a doubling down on the dare. The Wagners bring home tantrum-tossing Lita and accident-prone, scared-of-his-own-shadow Juan (Gustavao Quiroz) and figure that love, generosity and civility will win over these traumatized-by-the-system children of a crack addict.



The producers figure they earn a pass on all the adult language and adult subject matter (Lizzie’s sexting flirtation with a 22 year-old) by giving a scruffy, rude picture a nice gloss of good intentions. Spencer and Notaro’s characters give solid statistics and blunt reality checks in between sarcastic riffs on adoption and how it’s not for everyone.

Moner’s Lizzie is quick to play the “poor orphan/hard life” card when her insolence is challenged. How do you pick a foster kid out in a crowd? Look for the child “carrying her whole life around in a Hefty bag.”

That may work on Granny Jan (Julie Haggerty, funny), but not on smothering Earth Grandmother Sandy (The Great Margo Martindale).

The grim keep-kids-for-a-paycheck foster parenting system earns a few shots, and there are slapstick accidents, dining disasters and department store meltdowns. The birth mother’s return signals court scenes — there’s a genuine effort to get a taste of the entire process in “Instant Family.” Too much effort.

But every so often, Byrne’s eyes bug out even wider than Wahlberg’s, her voice goes even higher and her patter outruns his in a sprint and she…just…loses…it. Goes off. She is hilarious in this, with a script that lets her lull us with how sweet and reasonable Ellie is, until she reaches her limit.

Or until somebody — sister, mother, adoption agent or out-of-control-kid — baits her.

“We could have had a little toddler who doesn’t have OPINIONS or THONG underwear!”

In the roller coaster between serious and silly that “Instant Family” bounces along on, Byrne is the Fast-Pass holder, and she makes this uneven dramedy a hoot, and more importantly, makes it work.


MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements, sexual material, language and some drug references

Cast: Rose Byrne, Mark Wahlberg, Isabela Moner, Octavia Spencer, Tig Notaro, Margo Martindale, Julie Hagerty, Joan Cusack

Credits:Directed by Sean Anders, script by Sean Anders and John Morris. A Paramount release.

Running time: 1:57

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Next screening? “Instant Family”

It wouldn’t be the holidays without a mildly inappropriate Mark Wahlberg “family” comedy.

And this year, there’s no Will Ferrell to cover for him.

So Mark has to bring his manic A-game.

“Instant Family” is about adoption, so a lot of the marketing they’re doing for it is emphasizing that, sort of a “Bring a kid you didn’t give birth to home for the holidays.” OK, not that crass. Not quite. But give them credit for grabbing a cause (teens in need of adoption) and running with it.

This is the last of the week’s releases to screen for critics (thus, reviews are tardy), but they’re showing it well before opening. And the trailers have had good timing and a laugh or three.

Their secret weapon? Rose Byrne. “Bridesmaids” straight-woman, give’em hell better half to Seth Rogen in “Neighbors,” funniest thing about “Get Him to the Greek.” That Rose Bryne.

I’m pumped. Are you pumped? Are you?

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