I heard a lot of conflicting things about the Mark Wahlberg comedy Instant Family back when it was in theaters – ranging from “It’s a fantastic movie with a great message!” to “Meh, nothing special.”
I’d heard particularly that its premise of a couple becoming foster parents was super pro–life and well-done for the cause of adoption – and also that it totally missed its mark in those areas.
So now that it’s streaming on Amazon Prime, I was eager to see for myself.
Instant Family’s premise
Pete and Ellie are a married couple in their early forties who have never had kids. They flip houses for a living, and they never felt like it was the right time to have kids because they were super broke and then super busy.
Through a conversation with Ellie’s condescending sister, they start to entertain the idea to adopt a kid. Which turns into them attending an orientation to start the process of becoming foster parents.
As you can see from the cover, the two of them end up with not just one foster kid but three siblings to foster.
From there, your typical family chaos ensues.
There’s a lot of good here…
I love that foster parenting/adoption gets its own movie. Apart from Randall’s family in “This Is Us,” I haven’t seen this topic tackled very much in entertainment media.
There are strong themes of familial love, sacrificing, and a great quote from a side character who tells the main couple when they’re almost ready to give up, “Things that matter are hard.”
Quality-wise, the middle of the movie is hilarious and well-done. There’s also a sequence about two-thirds of the way through where they sort of become “real parents” by protecting their teenage daughter in a pretty hilarious way.
There are plenty of moments that are funny enough to make you laugh out loud, and at least a couple moments that are heart-warming enough to make the more tear-inclined get a big misty-eyed.
And there’s some not-so-good here
For starters, a lot of the attempts at humor in the first third of the movie are pretty flat and forced – just awkward, the kind of thing that makes you shift in your seat and feel bad for the fake people you’re watching (and the screenwriter who super failed at comedy in these spots…).
Some of the lines near the end start to veer back into the same territory. Though the middle of the movie is pretty good, the beginning and parts of the end really struggle.
I also have a small issue with the premise itself, in that Pete and Ellie choose to foster and adopt sort of as a substitute for conceiving biological children.
While adoption is beautiful and certainly something that should be promoted, I do wish the movie didn’t present it as an alternative, almost as if to say, “There’s no need to be open to conceiving new life in your marriage, just adopt!” They’re two different things and shouldn’t be presented as interchangeable.
It’s not a family-watch-together movie
The film’s description on Amazon calls it a “must-see family movie.” It’s about a family, sure, but this is not exactly appropriate to watch with your kids unless your kids are teenagers or older.
There’s a fair amount of profanity (including one F-word), brief references to sexual abuse, and a non-graphic reference to masturbation.
There are also a bunch of crude references to male genitalia and sexting in a sequence that is funny and comes to a point of Pete and Ellie taking care of their kid – but it’s definitely not a kid-friendly plot point.
Also of note is that in their foster parent training/support group is a male homosexual couple. They’re not just in the background, either.
For the typical adult viewer, the crude material in Instant Family isn’t that bad. But I would definitely not call it a “family movie” since that usually means something the whole family can watch together.
I do like this movie
On the whole, I think the positives outweigh the negatives in Instant Family.
It’s definitely not perfect (morally or artistically…), but it does shine light on the important area of fostering and adoption, and it does so in a pretty entertaining way.