[Review] Families aren’t instant

agnes wilson
[Review] Families aren’t instant image

In the move Instant Family Pete (Mark Wahlberg) and Ellie (Rose Byrne) are a couple who want to start a family and, after exploring the option of fostering, find themselves caring for three siblings, including rebellious 15-year-old.

According to the official synopsis, “Pete and Ellie must hilariously try to learn the ropes of instant parenthood in the hopes of becoming a family”. But don’t be misled. While there are light-hearted moments, they are used to highlight the challenges of caring for children in the child protection system. It is an honest look at how people are transformed by the experience of fostering.

Based on a true story?

Instant Family is inspired by the real events from the life of writer and director Sean Anders, who began fostering children in 2012. Like Pete and Ellie, he and his wife went from no children to three in one day and had to learn their parenting skills quickly.

In a 2018 interview Anders stated that he tried to be frank in the movie about people’s feelings and the ways things really work.

“It is not easy, and we didn’t want to sugar coat the process,” he said. “We didn’t want to make a movie that would convey, “Oh, this is easy-peasy.” What we did want to convey is that this is just parenting.

"These kids were not these unreachable, troubled kids"


“Whether you have biological kids or you adopt kids, you’re going to have some problems. You’re going to have some strife. A lot of these kids are coming from trauma. They’re coming from difficult situations.”

Foster care isn't for the "super-parents"

However, what he wanted to do differently was to show that people need not be special or exceptional to parent foster children.

“I feel like most movies on this topic focus on the trauma and send people away with this feeling that these kids are damaged and only angels are good enough to help these kids,” Anders said. “None of that is true. I’m not an angel; I’m not special. None of the people we met with are angels.

“The kids were not these unreachable, troubled kids. I wanted to make a movie that accentuated the other side of it, the joy, the laughter, the love, but not shy away from the trauma or the tragedy of it.”

"We didn't want to sugar coat the process"

One thing that comes across clearly in the film is the idea that families are not created instantly. They are forged through the trials that come and foster parents being there for their kids even through the most testing times.

An authentic representation of the foster care experience

For Anglicare foster carer Lucy Hercus, Instant Family is an authentic representation of the foster care experience.

“There are heaps of movies that feature some kind of reference to foster care, adoption, blended families and the ‘orphan’ story,” she says. “If you have personal experience with any of these, you can always smell the lack of authenticity.  

“As much as this movie was a comedy, there was much evidence that the creators of the film knew what they were talking about. We felt that the movie stood up on its own, but especially enjoyed those special bits we could relate to.

“We liked that it didn’t take itself too seriously,” she adds. “There were times when my husband and I were laughing out loud and realised the rest of the cinema didn’t get the joke. What we felt the movie did capture very well was the sequencing of emotions, behaviours and landmarks that a long-term foster parent will have.”

Foster care workers are also recommending the film.

Although the system in the US is different, Anglicare case manager Amanzi Lawrence found Instant Family to be a realistic depiction of the fostering experience.

“I found the representation of foster carers… incredibly positive and very realistic, and I was impressed at the sensitive handling of the topic of restoration to birth family,” she says.

“I think the film is insightful and have recommended it to many people who have no knowledge of the foster system.”

Instant Family is rated PG.


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