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The Ultimate Guide to Christmas Specials

Christmas TV specials, limited series and movies are bigger than ever these days from now until the New Year, you’ll be able to find some festive yule-tide programming every night of the week. From the traditional viewing of It’s a Wonderful Life, the different versions of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, to baking shows and live music specials, we’ve got them all listed on the new Christmas TV Specials page. (Since not all of the networks list their specials early, this list will be updated throughout the coming weeks, so check back often for new additions!)

'Instant Family' Will Pull Your Heartstrings in a Good Way

Review of "Instant Family"
Rose Byrne, Mark Wahlberg and Margo Martindale in "Instant Family" (Paramount Pictures)

MOVIE REVIEW
What started as an older man’s joke about wanting to adopt a five-year-old instead of starting from scratch, Instant Family was inspired by writer and director Sean Anders’ real-life family. Pete (Mark Wahlberg) “accidentally” makes the joke to his wife Ellie (Rose Byrne) not wanting to be become that “old dad” everyone knows and before you know it, the two are traveling down to road toward foster care adoptions. After numerous classes taught by two caseworkers (Octavia Spencer and Tig Notaro), the two meet three kids at a “foster fair” gathering. Lizzy (Isabela Moner) is the 15-year-old older sister who has protectively looked after her younger siblings Juan (Gustavo Quiroz) and Lita (Julianna Gamiz) while their mother has been incarcerated. She’s a tough cookie with trust issues. Juan is both accident prone and highly sensitive and Lita is super sweet as long as she gets to eat potato chips at every meal. Almost overnight they become an “instant family” and everything goes smoothly. They tell their foster family support group that they feel like they got lucky and got three really great kids. Then reality sets it. Lizzy starts to test her authority figures, Lita proves how loud she can scream when she doesn’t get her way and Juan is just an emotional mess. However, Pete and Ellie, who flip houses for a living, are in it for the long haul.

Review of "Instant Family"
Tig Notaro and Olivia Spencer (Paramount)
Instant Family offers a mixed bag of emotions to go along with the film. It not only promotes the good in foster care adoptions but also bluntly shares its challenges too. Just about every school of thought on the subject is discussed throughout the two-hour-long film from disapproving relatives to thoughts concerning “white people” adopting “children of color.” And what about the kids birth mother? What if she gets out of prison? Then what?

Sure, some scenes are a bit corny and others are a bit extreme. Some audience members will think that certain situations featured in the film are unrealistic, but they are probably not parents. Parents know better because they’ve been there. Instant Family offers some uncomfortable scenes where the parents say things that “good” parents are never supposed to say. Those scenes can be a bit painful to watch as they aren’t that far off the mark of what all parents say sometimes about their own children. Frankly, some scenes are sugar-coated while others bare all.

Review of "Instant Family"
Julie Hagerty (Paramount)
Spencer and Notaro are excellent together as Karen and Sharon the case workers who support Pete and Ellie all along the way. Margo Martindale plays Pete’s mom who wants to be super-grandma to the kids that she’s never even met which contrasts with Ellie’s mother played by Julie Hagerty who lets the kids draw all over her face with permanent markers. She then tries to have a serious conversation with her daughter looking like that. Both are inspired choices. Also worth noting is Joan Cusack’s brief scene as Mrs. Howard, an eavesdropping neighbor lady. It’s a fun choice.

Review of "Instant Family"
Mark Wahlberg, Rose Byrne, Isabella Moner
Julianna Gamiz and Gustavo Quiroz
(Paramount)
At times Instant Family serves as a public service announcement for foster care adoptions with its facts and figures, success rates etc., but thankfully, the message doesn’t merge into “afterschool TV special” terrorist or a “The More You Know” segment. Pete and Ellie (although a bit high-strung) are portrayed as realistic and mature parents. (They pray over dinner twice and only break into their liquor cabinet once throughout the whole movie!)

Though this is a movie with a positive view of families, I wouldn’t consider it a movie that you would bring your family to. There is quite a bit of coarse language and some of the subject matter could be disturbing to younger children not to mention understanding many of the jokes.


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