RATED PG-13 | 4.5 stars
My family adopted three sibling groups from foster care by the time I was 15, so when I saw the trailer for Instant Family, I knew I had to go see it. How on earth they were going to touch on the true reality of life for foster families, I had no idea. But I had to at least give it a chance.
I laughed harder than I had laughed in a movie in years, and I cried more tears than I think I’ve ever cried while watching a movie. Instant Family was beautifully done. Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne played an upper middle class couple who didn’t have any kids and were quite content in their professional, golf club member lives. Ellie (Rose Byrne) latches onto a passing comment Peter (Mark Wahlberg) makes, and she discovers how many children are in the foster care program and in need of a stable place to live while their families are in flux or while they wait for someone willing to adopt them.
They decide to get certified as foster parents and end up taking in a teenage girl and her two younger siblings. The movie then follows their adventures: dealing with a five-year old who only wants to eat potato chips, taking the ten-year old to the hospital when he drops a nail gun on his foot, and dealing with a teenager who has anger issues and is always testing boundaries.
We see the emotional turmoil of Lizzie, the teenager, as she deals with her birth mother getting out of jail and trying to reunite her family yet her younger siblings have bonded with Pete and Ellie. It shows the power of having someone who believes in a child who has been uprooted from stability and the beauty of family. It also shows how hard it is for foster parents when the kids, through no fault of their own, struggle to connect with them.
Instant Family tears apart so many of the usual objections to being a foster parent and helps dispel many of the ideas of what many foster parents are, while also making it clear that not all foster families are equal, which is why people willing to be foster parents are so essential. It addresses the fallacy of the “white savior” or the kids being “less than” kids who aren’t in the system. It addresses the flack many foster couples get from their families and the way the foster kids are viewed by others. “They look so…normal” was said multiple times as people got to know the kids.
“It’s never going to be easy.”
It was shockingly real and didn’t try to sugarcoat the life of a foster parent or being a foster kid. I honestly would caution anyone actively in the foster care system or who has wounds from the system from watching it, because it is real enough to re-open those wounds. There are definitely things the writers could have done differently, especially in regards to the birth mother. She was sympathetic, but the story line was rushed a bit there, so the depth wasn’t allowed to be fully explored in the detail that would have given it an extra depth. And often, when things resolve as was done in this movie, there isn’t a foster family waiting to adopt them. Very often, the kids will end up continuing to bounce around in the system.
The language and other themes in this movie definitely warrant the PG-13 rating. The language is especially strong with pretty much every curse word used liberally and the bird being flipped on at least one occasion. In addition, there is a scene where the teenager is caught sending and receiving nudes, and Pete and Ellie confront her (and later the guy), and some colorful language is used for those conversations. Outside of the language, in the Parenting Classes, they talk about how many of the kids come from abusive situations and there is a girl who comes in and gives her testimony. While short, it is very heartbreaking and not terribly censored. The content is glossed over but not censored.
This movie was wonderfully done (not perfectly, but wonderfully for a 2-hour movie), but it isn’t for everyone. If excessive language bothers you, I would steer clear for now. If you live in a broken family like theirs, this may reopen wounds. But this movie is also incredibly powerful because of how real it is. The characters are awkward, flawed, real, and trying very hard to do the right thing even when they fail. And, at the end of it all, it is about building a family from brokenness.
Brianna is a manager at her favorite childhood bookstore. She is likely to be found curled up with a book and her black cat, Bear, talking to a stranger, dancing outside in a thunderstorm, singing Disney songs while making cookies, or snuggling her best friend's baby while drinking coffee. Her heart is fueled by the desire to help people find their unique wings and use them in whatever capacity God has created them for. She is passionate about seeing and finding Christ in the secular world wherever she can.