Instant Family Parent Guide
A tender, heartwarming film whose gritty authenticity keeps it from feeling too sweet.
Parent Movie Review
Pete (Mark Wahlberg) and Ellie Wagner (Rose Byrne) have it made. The happy couple work together flipping houses and enjoying date nights, golfing, and playing with their dog. But one day Ellie decides something is missing and that something is a family. Pete and Ellie have never tried to have children of their own and Pete makes a joking reference to adopting an older child so he won’t be a really old dad. Ellie takes him seriously and starts researching foster parenting and adoption. The two enroll in foster parenting classes and a chain of circumstances lead them to welcome three siblings to their perfect home - Lizzy, Juan, and Lita (Isabela Moner, Gustavo Quiroz, and Julianna Gamiz).
The three children arrive with their belongings in garbage bags: Lizzy tells a very stunned Ellie that being able to pack up your life in a Hefty bag is a sure sign that someone is a foster child. And that isn’t all the baggage the children have brought with them. Lizzy misses her mother, despite her history of drug abuse, neglect, and incarceration. Juan has nightmares and lives in fear of physical harm. And Lita will only eat potato chips and screams piercingly whenever she is upset or frustrated. The hopeful new parents are soon exhausted and overwhelmed.
Since this movie is listed as a comedy and not a drama, we know that there is going to be a happy ending. Kudos to the director and screen writer for not making that happy ending too easy. This script is based on the real-life experience of director Sean Anders and his wife, who fostered and then adopted three children. Their personal journey through the joy and angst of adopting older children imbues this story with a gritty authenticity that makes the final scenes feel more real.
Unfortunately, the realism sometimes gets a bit too “gritty”. The biggest content issue in this film is language. I counted over four dozen profanities and there could easily be more: sometimes they came so quickly it was hard to keep track. I counted 19 scatological curses, 10 terms of deity, one sexual expletive and at least 19 other moderate profanities.
Another area of concern involves sexual content. Although there is no sexual activity on screen, the Wagners discover that Lizzie has been pressured by her crush, Jacob, into taking topless photos of herself. Jacob, in turn, is sending her photos of his genitalia. (These photos are discussed in general terms and are not shown.) When her new parents find out that Jacob is not a teenage crush but a 24 year old school employee, they lose their self-control. Pete punches the young man and Ellie kicks him in the groin. Twice. This scene is played for laughs, but it represents poor judgment and a lack of responsibility on the part of both supposedly mature adults.
These content issues are particularly frustrating because they spoil what is otherwise a tender, heartwarming film, rendering it unsuitable for children, although teens will likely enjoy it. Instant Family has timely messages about the power of love and the strength of family bonds. Pete and Ellie learn that love isn’t about a “cosmic connection” but that it grows out of caring, sacrifice, determination, and keeping promises. And the children learn that there are adults they can trust to love them, set boundaries, and never leave. This message is worth sharing with all families, instant or not.Directed by Sean Anders. Starring Isabela Moner, Mark Wahlberg, and Rose Byrne. Running time: 119 minutes. Theatrical release November 16, 2018. Updated March 6, 2019
Watch the trailer for Instant Family
Rating & Content Info
Why is Instant Family rated PG-13? Instant Family is rated PG-13 by the MPAA for thematic elements, sexual material, language and some drug references
Violence: A man has a heart attack and dies on the street in front of two boys. A boy gets hit in the face with a basketball, he is shown with a bloody nose. He later gets hit in the head with a baseball. A man gets accidentally hit in the head with a candle, which starts a small fire. A boy drops a nail gun on his foot, which punches a nail through his shoe and foot. A small amount of blood is seen before the foot is wrapped up and he is taken to the hospital. He then receives an injection from the doctor. After he has recovered, he steps on broken glass on the floor; no blood is seen. Two main characters punch a man in the head and kick him in the groin twice. They are arrested.
Sexual Content: A married couple kiss on several occasions. A gay couple makes a joke about being unable to conceive a baby. A casual reference is made to masturbation. A woman announces that she is going to get pregnant that afternoon. Reference is made to a teenage girl taking topless selfies and receiving sexts with pictures of male genitalia.
Profanity: Over four dozen profanities are used in this film, including at least 19 scatological curses, ten terms of deity, one sexual expletive, and 19 other moderate curse words and coarse expressions.
Alcohol / Drug Use: References are made to the birth mother’s drug habit and the fact that the children grew up in a crack house. A main character drinks a significant amount of alcohol at the end of a very stressful day.
Page last updated March 6, 2019
Instant Family Parents' Guide
The three siblings arrive at the Wagner’s home with all their belongings in garbage bags. Did you know that many charities exist to provide foster children with backpacks or suitcases and belongings they need? What other kinds of support do you think foster children could use? Is there a way you can help foster kids in your community?
Loved this movie? Try these books…
The Most Precious Present in the World by Becky Edwards is a book for young readers about the questions adoptive children might have about their birth parents and why they look different from their adoptive parents. Also suitable for children is Marcy Pusey’s Speranza’s Sweater: A Child’s Journey Through Foster Care and Adoption. This sensitive tale gives children insight into foster care and the complex emotions they might feel.
In The Family Nobody Wanted Helen Doss tells the story of how she and her minister husband wound up adopting 12 children of different races and cultural backgrounds.
The most recent home video release of Instant Family movie is March 5, 2019. Here are some details…
Related home video titles:
A Shine of Rainbows tells a heartwarming story when a young boy is adopted by a woman with a generous heart and her taciturn husband. In The Blind Side, a mother changes the life of a young, homeless man, giving him a home, stability, love, and a future in professional football.
Animated movies which feature foster children or adoption include Despicable Me and Kung Fu Panda. Adoption gets the full musical treatment in Annie.