By Michael Ordona,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Heartwarming family dramedy has some mature moments.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Promotes unconditional familial love, despite difficulties and perseverance required. Underlines core belief that kids coming from extremely difficult circumstances are still kids who deserve love and a chance to flourish. Some characters' motivations for fostering/adopting aren't as genuine/realistic as others, which is played for laughs in the film.
Positive Role Models
Strongly positive representations in main couple, who undertake challenge of fostering three siblings, including a rebellious teen. They're far from perfect but clearly capable of empathy and deep, selfless love. The kids struggle a lot and have behavioral issues, but they're ultimately reached by that love. Case workers are in it for the right reasons, and other foster parents are committed, caring. No prominent/specific "bad guys." A birth mother struggles with her addictions, a would-be foster mom might not be in it for the right reasons (played for laughs). Occasional intolerance from family members. A pedophile is dealt with appropriately.
Violence & Scariness
One kid is an accident magnet: He gets hit in the face with a ball, drawing blood, even accidentally drives a nail into his own foot. Parents beat up a young man who's preying on a much younger girl; although the violence includes punching his face and kicking his crotch, it's played for laughs.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
One young girl falls prey to an older (though still young) man and is caught sexting/trying to take nude selfies for him. They're not shown -- nor is the nude photo he sends her -- but they're discussed.
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Occasional strong language includes rare use of "f--k," "bitch," "p---y" (as in the Russian band P---y Riot), "s--t," "a--hole," "d--k," "goddamn," "hell," "crap," "knob," "jackass," "pissed," "oh my God," anti-Mexican slurs, and a few others. In several cases, the impact of the language is shown.
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Products & Purchases
Barbie is mentioned as something the youngest child wants, but the brand isn't shown or promoted.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Some drinking, as when the exasperated mother unlocks the liquor cabinet and helps herself to some wine (not to excess). Verbal references to a birth mother's drug problem and to another foster child's struggle with addiction.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Instant Family is a dramedy based on writer-director Sean Anders and his wife's real-life experiences fostering and eventually adopting three young siblings. The couple in the film (Mark Wahlberg, Rose Byrne) hit pretty much every road bump on the way to becoming a forever family. Expect occasional strong language (including "f--k," "bitch," "s--t," etc.) and some drinking and drug/addiction references. There are comic accidents and one serious one (with a little bit of resulting blood). When a pedophile gets beaten up, it's played for laughs, as are some supporting characters' unrealistic/not genuine reasons for wanting to foster/adopt -- which could bother some families. The pedophile subplot isn't a major one, but it does involve an older (though still young) man preying on a teen. Ultimately the movie champions unconditional familial love and perseverance and argues that kids coming from extremely difficult circumstances are still kids who deserve love and a chance to flourish.
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What's the Story?
In INSTANT FAMILY, a 40-something couple named Pete and Ellie (Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne) decide to foster three siblings, including a smart and rebellious teenager named Lizzy (Isabela Moner). With the help of dedicated case workers (Octavia Spencer, Tig Notaro), the group navigates the extremely bumpy road toward becoming a forever family.
Is It Any Good?
This dramedy offers heartfelt moments and touching details likely drawn from writer-director Sean Anders' actual experiences of fostering three siblings with his wife. This kind of story could easily veer into schmaltz, but Instant Family admirably avoids most of that. It comes off as authentically earnest, with some light touches and effective performances. Some moments are clearly exaggerated for comic effect, but generally speaking, the film feels rooted in reality (though some might say the foster care system comes off a bit too rosy). Everyday pitfalls like getting the kids to eat and dress properly throw off the couple's once-tidy existence. Much larger, more serious issues -- such as the re-emergence of the kids' birth mother -- also come up to complicate the budding family's existence.
Playing Lizzy, young Moner is impressive; she's intelligent and emotionally available. Spencer gets the lion's share of the laughs and delivers as the unfiltered half of a comic team with Notaro. Byrne and Wahlberg are, as always, appealing presences, each finding moments to shine and reveal the depth of their emotion toward the kids. Instant Family is ultimately a life-affirming testament to the strength of the families we choose.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about whether they would have shown the patience that Pete and Ellie did in Instant Family. Why do you think they stuck it out? Why do you think the kids were so poorly behaved at times? What made them stay together in the end?
Which characters did you most sympathize with? Which do you consider role models? How do the characters demonstrate perseverance?
What is the movie saying about the nature of what makes a family? What does "unconditional love" mean?
How does the movie handle sexting/inappropriate device use? What do the characters learn about it?
Do you think the film portrays foster families realistically? Is everyone in it for the right reasons?
- In theaters: November 16, 2018
- On DVD or streaming: March 5, 2019
- Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Rose Byrne, Isabela Moner
- Director: Sean Anders
- Studio: Paramount Pictures
- Genre: Comedy
- Character Strengths: Perseverance
- Run time: 119 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: thematic elements, sexual material, language and some drug references
- Last updated: December 20, 2022
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