Foster is one of those films that could have been utterly wonderful, but sadly falls short. While it has charm, it doesn’t feel genuine enough to really hit home in the heart-warming, rather sentimental way it’s trying to.
Zooey (Toni Collette) and Alec (Ioan Gruffudd) are a couple who’d like another child, but for psychosomatic reason, she is unable to conceive. They decide to try and foster a kid, but things go a little faster than they expected when seven-year-old Eli (Maurice Cole) simply turns up on their doorstep and announces he’s been sent to live with them. They take him in while the records are checked as to whether he’s really meant to be there. The couple soon discover that despite his size, Eli’s got a surprisingly adult attitude, including an interest in the recession and watching CNN.
Eli’s stay brings to light many of the problems in Zooey and Alec’s relationship, such as the joy they lost after a tragedy and the fact Alec’s toy factory is close to bankruptcy. The little man certainly shakes things up and could bring their happiness back – indeed there could be something a bit magical about both him and the homeless man who lives nearby (Richard E. Grant).
Foster sets out to grab onto your heartstrings and tug for all its worth. Indeed an early reference to Mary Poppins should give you a hint at what territory we’re entering (even if it’s Mary Poppins in reverse). However the problem is that while it’s a fairytale, it never feels quite rooted enough in the real world to let you believe in it. For example, while Zooey and Alec make some brief attempts to find out whether Eli should have shown up on their doorstep, it’s all a little convenient and implausible (and even a late explanation is too weak), and makes the couple seem a bit irresponsible. Indeed there were quite a few times where I wondered whether the couple should be allowed to have kids, such as when Zooey starts to tell Eli about the problems in her marriage – there may be a reason for it, but she still should know better.
These things, along with the fact the final revelation has been fairly obvious all the way through and is actually as creepy as it is magical means it never quite works. That said, I can easily imagine those who don’t think twice about what’s going on in a movie really liking this one and finding the whole thing utterly charming. But if for even a second you consider whether there’s the tiniest smidgeon of reality here or if any of these people are acting in a reasonable way (or indeed if the whole thing is actually an advert for Legoland and Hamleys), it all falls to bits.
This is actually the second movie writer/director Jonathan Newman has adapted from one of his own shorts in the last couple of years, the other being Swinging With The Finkels. Neither worked out as well as the idea (or cast) behind them might suggest, and to be honest I think in both cases it’s more to do with the scripts than anything else, which get so caught up in the plot and what they want to do that they forget to give the films the sort of grounding needed to really pull in the audience.
It’s a shame as I desperately wanted to like Foster more, as it’s the sort of movie I usually enjoy, but despite its best efforts and good performances from Toni Collette and Ioan Gruffudd, it’s more disappointing than magical.
Overall Verdict: This reverse Mary Poppins does its best and there are certainly moments of charm, humour and reality, but it’s constantly fighting a losing battle with convincing the audience anything they’re seeing is real.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac