Nov 22

“Instant Family”: Humor in Foster Family Adoption

I think when people hear the words ‘foster care’ it brings to mind a lot of negativity and fear, and what I found in my travels through the system, over and over again, is that you meet the kids, and you go “Oh, they’re just kids. They’re just kids, and they need families and they need love, and they have love to give, just like any other kids.” Sean Anders, director of Instant Family (Harvard Crimson)

Film director Sean Anders reportedly hopes that not only will audiences have fun watching Instant Family they’ll also learn something about foster care adoption. A “comedy with good intentions” (The New York Times), Instant Family is based on the real-life experiences of Anders and his wife, who adopted three siblings from the foster care system.

From the official Instant Family description (on Rotten Tomatoes): “When Pete (Mark Wahlberg) and Ellie (Rose Byrne) decide to start a family, they stumble into the world of foster care adoption. They hope to take in one small child but when they meet three siblings, including a rebellious 15 year old girl (Isabela Moner), they find themselves speeding from zero to three kids overnight.”

An added bonus is the special team of social workers, played by Tig Notaro and Octavia Spencer, helping the couple.

The trailer might be enough to interest you in helping some needy kids—or maybe not:

Anders has described his personal experiences with adoption in a Time essay:

In 2012 we got three siblings: an 18-month-old, a three-year-old and a six-year-old. We were told they’d been removed from their mother because she had a drug problem. I wasn’t worried. I thought, ‘Oh, I can do this. I’m going to be great at this.’ Then they showed up and it was like: ‘We’ve made a horrible, horrible mistake.’ The first few months were really rough. We would lie in bed at night and just try to figure out some way that we could get them out of our house. They were completely ruining all of our fun. When you get three at once you don’t have time to get your sea legs. It was kind of like babysitting someone else’s kids, but forever.

Having a sense of humor is a key asset, Anders told Peter T. Chattaway (Patheos). While those families in the know will probably appreciate the comedy involved in the film, others may carry some skepticism: “‘Oh, are they going to make fun of kids in foster care?’ And of course, that’s not what we’re doing at all,” states Anders.

Realistic events like social worker-led foster parent training classes as well as adoption picnics, at which interested parties get to meet foster kids, are depicted in Instant Family. Also, of course, the effort to keep siblings together.

Additionally, there’s a significant reason behind Anders making one of the adopted kids in Instant Family a teenager. Per Refinery29, “older children are less likely to become adopted. Within 18 months of ‘aging out’ of the system at age 18, 40-50% of teens are likely to become homeless.”

May 06

“The Meddler”: Mom, Grief, Boundaries, Therapy

…(I)n its heart, it’s a story about the lived experience of grief. Marnie is still dealing with the death of her husband, and Lori with her father. Matt Zoller Seitz, rogerebert.com, regarding The Meddler

A recommended alternative to the widely panned Mother’s Day this weekend is writer-director Lorene Scarfaria‘s semi-autobiographical The Meddler, which has “a diminutive and misleading title for such an affecting, often profound film,” states reviewer Matt Zoller Seitz, rogerebert.com. His intro:

Susan Sarandon plays the title character, Marnie Minervini, a sixty-something mom who moves from New York to Los Angeles to be closer to her screenwriter daughter Lori (Rose Byrne), who just broke up with her actor boyfriend (Jason Ritter). Marnie is one of those mothers who calls her daughter five times in the space of a couple of hours, leaving a message each time Lori doesn’t pick up, then leaves ten more messages throughout the day because she’s worried about not having heard back from her yet. Her daughter can’t take her relentlessness, so Marnie channels her energy into mothering strangers and near-strangers…

The trailer:

The Role of Therapy in The Meddler

Peter Debruge, Variety: “To the extent that the film is therapeutic, Scafaria clearly wrote it as a way to process her and [mom] Gail’s wildly different approaches to processing [dad] Joseph’s passing — going so far as to involve actual therapy sessions, in which Mom decides to see the same shrink in hopes of hearing what Lori won’t share with her directly.”

How this happens in the film is that Lori has set out to establish some needed guidelines with her mom. Bob Mondello, NPR: “‘I’ve been talking to my therapist,’ she begins, and you see Marnie’s eyes moisten before she even gets to the ‘boundaries’ part. Then mom’s out the door, and straight to the therapist. The therapist they share — so much for boundaries.”

Manohla Dargis, New York Times: “Marnie has started to see the therapist (Amy Landecker in a quick, deadpan turn) at Lori’s urging, though mostly she seems to go as a way to insinuate herself even more deeply into her daughter’s life. It’s no wonder that Marnie seems like a smother-mother who’s one 911 call away from a restraining order; no wonder too that she seems lonely.”

Marnie doesn’t stick with the shrink, though. 

In conclusion, Ella Taylor, NPR: “The great thing about The Meddler is that it doesn’t force Marnie to change all that much. She comes to see that she needs to take care of herself as well as others. Likewise, Lori comes to accept the gift that’s been in front of her nose all along, and to accept that what’s most annoying (to her, if not to her friends) about her mother is also what’s finest about her.”

Sep 19

“This Is Where I Leave You”: Therapists Won’t Like This

Welcome Home. Get uncomfortable. Tagline for This Is Where I Leave You

This Is Where I Leave You is the type of star-studded dysfunctional-family dramedy you might get kinda excited about after seeing the previews:

But then you find the disappointing reviews. Many say it’s a predictable and not-funny-enough, not good-enough script—adapted, incidentally, by Jonathan Tropper himself, the author of the 2009 best-selling novel.

Cynthia Fuchs, Pop Matters, sums it all up: “Girls want babies, boys want reassurance, girls nurture, boys need to wander. Dad is dead. Long live formula.”

Despite this, you dig even deeper into what the critics are saying. Alas, you find out that not one, but two, therapists are (once again) depicted badly.

More About the Plot and Characters

Rodrigo Perez, IndieWire, describes “the doyenne of the household” (Jane Fonda) as “an audacious TMI-sharing psychiatrist whose bestselling book exploited her own family’s dysfunction for her gain, much to their resentment.” Fonda’s character Hillary posits, “Secrets are a cancer to a family.”

Here’s a rundown of the rest of the brood, per Perez:

…(O)f course the family in question is composed of nondescript characters and recognizable stereotypes. Bateman once again appears in his favorite role: the perpetually exasperated ‘rational’ guy who has to navigate his neurotic and irrational family. There’s Paul (Corey Stoll), the older resentful brother who can’t get his wife (Kathryn Hahn) pregnant. Phillip (Adam Driver), the baby of the family, is an unreliable, juvenile shithead who’s now dating his cougar-esque ex-therapist (Connie Britton). Wendy [Tina Fey] has two kids, a neglectful, asshole workaholic husband (Aaron Lazar), and still pines for an old boyfriend who suffers from a head injury that’s made him slow (Timothy Olyphant). Rose Byrne co-stars as a girl from Judd’s past that just might be the woman he needs now (how opportune!). Unsurprisingly, no one’s happy, everyone’s dealing with different levels of pain and hardship, and that’s life, right?

Viewers know Hillary’s adult kids aren’t happy with their mom’s oversharing. Less is specifically said about Phillip’s new relationship with his therapist, though, in large part because so little has ever been expected of him and his choices.

To be clearer, this situation (if occurring in real life) is much more about the choice made by the ex-therapist he’s dating, who breezily explains she terminated the clinical relationship when they knew they had a more personal interest in each other. More ethical choices could involve discussion(s) of how to move forward via processing this clinically and/or terminating the clinical relationship and thus the relationship, period, and referring him elsewhere.

Chris Nashawaty, ew.comconcludes the following about the various characters’ representations: “The movie is so festooned with clichés it proves that Tolstoy was dead wrong when he wrote that every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. This clan is just like the one in August: Osage County (or Home For the Holidays or The Family Stone), only with more eye-rolling one-liners about Jane Fonda’s cantaloupe-sized breast implants. It’s a misfire that’s especially confounding considering that you couldn’t ask for a more promising cast of brother-and-sister bickerers.”

Selected Reviews

Todd McCarthy, Hollywood Reporter: “You laugh in spite of yourself in This Is Where I Leave You, a potty-mouthed comedy with enough exasperation, aggravations, long-standing grievances and get-me-outta-here moments of family stress to strike a chord with anyone who’s ever had to endure large clan gatherings that might have lasted a bit too long.”

Scott Foundas, Variety: “Sitting shiva makes the heart grow fonder (and the libido rage and the repressed grievances runneth over) in ‘This Is Where I Leave You,’ a sprawling ensemble dramedy that starts out like a full-tilt sit-com and gradually migrates to a place of genuine feeling.”

Rex Reed, New York Observer: “The actors all seem lost and jittery. The direction seems phoned in while waiting in line at some suburban ATM machine. If you crave freshness, originality or quality, cherish the decision to pass up This Is Where I Leave You and be content with the knowledge that you didn’t miss a thing.”