I walked out of the theater surprised after viewing the new movie “Instant Family,” starring silver-screen heavyweights Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne as foster parents. It was not what I expected.
The film features Wahlberg as Pete and Byrne as Ellie, an upper-middle-class married couple who decide on a whim to foster three children—Lita, Juan, and Lizzy—played by Julianna Gamiz, Gustavo Quiroz, and Isabela Moner.
As someone who has volunteered with multiple adoption and foster advocacy organizations over the years, I have learned a lot about the challenges of bringing foster children into one’s home.
Movies that feature foster care and adoption storylines often miss the opportunity to highlight the whole picture. Because “Instant Family” was directed by Sean Anders, an adoptive father of three, the film offers a unique level of honesty.
I found the film refreshing in five distinct ways:
1. The comedy will surprise you.
Since I am naturally drawn to stories about adoption, I expected “Instant Family” to make me cry, but I ended up laughing throughout much of the film.
One of my favorite scenes was one we have all witnessed, and many of us have had the humbling pleasure of experiencing firsthand. Parents Ellie and Pete are at the store with their three foster children when the youngest, Lita, demands to have a certain Barbie doll. Ellie says “no” and all hell ensues, with store employees and shoppers gawking in disgust.
Life with kids, whether they are your biological or adopted children, is often messy and complicated. The film showcases the importance of finding humor in the craziness to gain perspective or make it through.
2. It’s brutally honest.
Forget the sweet tale of Little Orphan Annie. All three children in “Instant Family” have major challenges and hurts they are working through.
Much of the plot focuses on the oldest child, Lizzy, a 15-year-old who has spent much of her life raising her two younger siblings while her mom was strung out on methamphetamine or in prison. Lizzy is tough and does what many foster children do when they see love coming their way—push it as far away as they can because the thought of love has only let them down.
Ellie and Pete reach a breaking point as foster parents early on. After all the warm sentiments of “rescuing” three orphaned children evaporate, they admit to each other that they have made a mistake.
Of course, this is not the end of the story, but it is an uncomfortable yet human admission. I applaud Anders for recognizing the internal struggle some foster and adoptive parents face.
3. It debunks foster care myths.
“Instant Family” tackles misconceptions that so many people believe when considering becoming a foster parent.
—You have to be really special to foster a child. Not everyone is meant to foster or adopt a child, but you do not have to be superhuman to love a child in need of a home. Ordinary people with problems of their own serve as successful foster or adoptive parents.
—Older kids are too far gone. This is my favorite myth that “Instant Family” demolishes. Yes, older children tend to come with more challenges, but the challenge is worth it.
—A “cosmic connection” occurs when you meet your foster child. Building a relationship with a child takes a lot of effort and time. As the film illustrates, there likely won’t be a magical spark that instantly binds you together.
4. It celebrates marriage.
It can be difficult to find a contemporary movie in the mainstream that paints marriage in a positive light. “Instant Family” not only honors marriage, but puts some of its most beautiful qualities on display.
Pete and Ellie survive the chaos of bringing three children into their home because they are willing to do it together. They learn to work as a team, not allowing their kids, parents, or work break down their relationship.
5. We can all relate.
Regardless of whether you want children, “Instant Family” is a relatable story.
The movie puts much of life’s dirty laundry on the line—from the wounds of abandonment and abuse to the challenges of dealing with critical extended family members.
At some point in our lives, we all find ourselves doing something we feel unqualified to do. “Instant Family” reminds its audience to savor those special moments when we choose to step back, laugh, and remember that it is OK to find ourselves in over our heads sometimes.
If you plan to see “Instant Family,” keep in mind that it is rated PG-13 and may not be appropriate for children. The movie includes language that may be offensive to some, sexual references, and other mature content.