Want personalized picks that fit your family?

Set preferences to see our top age-appropriate picks for your kids.

Get age-based picks

Instant Family

Movie review by
Michael Ordona, Common Sense Media
Instant Family Movie Poster Image
Heartwarming family dramedy has some mature moments.
  • PG-13
  • 2018
  • 119 minutes
Popular with kidsParents recommend

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 44 reviews

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 27 reviews

We think this movie stands out for:

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

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 & Representations

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

What 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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Parent of a 10 year old Written byfunfunfun November 17, 2018

Great movie with a great message-but parents beware of language/content

This movie was spot on in a lot of ways! I think the message behind foster care was very true to life in many ways although I think the movie would have been ju... Continue reading
Adult Written byYcl November 19, 2018

Warm, funny, but not for preteen

This was the first time my 11-year old son wanted to see a movie that wasn’t PG. I checked the rating, saw PG-13 and thought it’d be ok. The movie has a very he... Continue reading
Teen, 14 years old Written bylucyn_0423 November 18, 2018

Cute, funny & dramatic movie!

There was a little bit of swearing but nothing children don't know. It was uplifting but inspiring and very funny and cute!
Teen, 14 years old Written byBob11 November 18, 2018
This movie does mention a few inappropriate things but all in all it's agreat movie to watch with kids closer to the tween ages.

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?

Movie details

Character Strengths

Find more movies that help kids build character.

For kids who love family comedies

Our editors recommend

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality and learning potential.

Learn how we rate