The topic of adoption and foster care conjures images of troubled and lost children, but thanks to Sean Anders (“We’re the Millers”), we have a completely new look at the topic. Starring Rose Byrne and Mark Wahlberg as Ellie and Pete, Anders creates a hilarious yet heartfelt story inspired by his own “instant family” experience.
Pete and Ellie live a comfortable life as they flip houses until one day, thanks to a competitive sister, Ellie happens upon an adoption website. The couple, humorously decide that perhaps they are special enough to take on parenting and attend classes and an adoption fair where they meet an intimidating teen named Lizzie (Isabela Moner). Impressed, yet scared, the couple find she has two younger siblings and invite them all to be a part of their home.
“Instant Family” takes us on an emotional and unusual journey as Pete and Ellie navigate the unknown waters of foster care and adoption. Attending meetings to learn how to be foster parents and know what to expect, we meet all the expectant parents. Octavia Spencer and Tig Notaro play the roles of social workers, Karen and Sharon, with an open and honest depiction while playing off one another’s personalities to create levity during intense informational scenes. Anders allows the viewer to learn about the foster care system while we are entertained and laughing. As the parents all have their trials and tribulations with their own situations, Pete and Ellie initially find it all to be a piece of cake…until the honeymoon period is over.
Pete and Ellie are thrust into the chaos of family life, upending their comfortably predictable life, only to find themselves deeply connected with all three of these kids. Of course, parenting a teen is no piece of cake and the situations they must deal with range from appropriate clothing and boys to respect and trust. That’s not to mention the younger kids’ development, temper tantrums, and picky eating. All three kids are very different, challenging Pete and Ellie’s skills and making them question their decision to adopt.
The film is so much more than a basic comedy as it addresses the public’s perception of adoption in a brutally honest way. Ellie’s family creates much of this open discussion, candidly stating what most would never admit to thinking. This, of course, creates more discourse and allows the plot to move forward as the family must now allow the kids to interact with their birth mother who had been incarcerated.
This superb balance between drama and humor in the film is present from start to finish. Just as a situation pulls on your heartstrings and you’re about to cry, Anders finds a way to put a safety net beneath you and you find yourself laughing. It’s a roller coaster ride of comedy and drama as we watch these parents and kids become a family.
Wahlberg and Byrne are a perfect fit as a regular couple who find themselves in over their heads. They portray a couple who is not perfect and who know one another better than anyone. Spencer and Notaro go together like peanut butter and jelly, a perfect yin-yang of comedic style. Of course, the little ones, Gustavo Quiroz (Juan) and Julianna Gamiz (Lita) endear you to them immediately, but it is Moner’s portrayal of Lizzy that stands out in this film. Her authentic performance creates a dynamic and complex character who must find a way to deal with the harsh realities of life while protecting her siblings. We feel her anger and resentment and understand where it comes from while we watch her wrestle with emotions that are far too difficult for a child to tackle. This ensemble cast who attempts to be a family on screen convince you that they are truly just that—a family.
Adoption and foster care are serious issues, but thanks to Anders’ experiences as well as his masterful skills as a writer and director, we see one of the best depictions of adoption in film. In a recent interview with Anders, he too felt that films didn’t portray the process or the children in foster care accurately. “…most of the movies that focus on foster care are these gut-wrenching dramas that reinforce these [negative] stereotypes about these kids. … I wanted to tell a more complete story that doesn’t shy away from those difficult areas, but gets into all the laughter, love, and joy that’s very real in these situations.”
And you will laugh a great deal while you shed a few tears as you watch “Instant Family.” And watch for Joan Cusack’s cameo which of course is laugh out loud funny! The film is coincidentally opening in November which is National Adoption Awareness Month. To read the entire interview with Anders, go to THE DAILY JOURNAL.