A movie about a couple adopting children. We’ve seen it all before, haven’t we? We know what will happen- the routine where the couple adopts the kids, bring them home, struggle to accept them and their behavior and waiting impatiently to hear the kids utter the words mom and dad. YET, in the hands of director/ producer/ writer Sean Anders, we get a very refreshing, enjoyable and a real experience of what it’s like to adopt not just one child but three children. The movie feels different mainly because Instant Family is based on Anders on experience.
Pete (charmingly played by Mark Wahlberg) and Ellie Wagner (amazingly played by Rose Byrne) are your typical middle-class couple, who felt the absence of children in their lives, go down the path of adopting a child. Having gone through the orientation class at the foster care center, which is led by Karen and Sharon, two leaders who oppose each other in all senses (and provide some of the best scenes in the movie!)
At the fair, Pete and Ellie meet Lizzie, a 15 year Latina girl, who comes across as a well-mannered girl. It so turns out that at the time of adoption, Lizzie has two younger siblings, so the Wagners bring home not just Lizzie, but Juan (an overly sensitive boy) and Lita (who is prone to throwing tantrums).
The movie focuses on how Pete and Ellie deal with the children and how the children deal with their new “pretend” parents—everything from school issues to anger issues, to using the bathroom issues, lives are thrown upside down for everyone.
In addition, we have Ellie’s parents and siblings who show a difficult attitude towards the idea of adoption, and how they come round to it. Grandma Sandy, Pete’s mother, also shows a rather loving side to accepting the kids.
Ultimately, the children’s real mother shows up and wants the children to stay with her, creating a whole new level of emotions for Pete and Ellie. Where do the children go? Are Pete and Ellie finally able to adopt? What does it mean to be a parent at the end of it all?
The Best Bits
Thankfully, while maintaining the realness of adoption, Sanders infuses a brilliant sense of humor through the Wagners, their extended family and as well as the Foster Care Center group leaders Karen and Sharon. The humor is not cringe-y nor is it trashy. There were so many moments where I actually laughed out loud, and that doesn’t really happen much in such movies. Also, the humor was maintained quite well throughout the movie.
Surprisingly, there were some parts of the movie that showed the realness of adopting children. There is an 8 weeks long course prospective adoptive parents have to take, the baggage the children bring with them especially with the harshness of the system they are subjected to (carrying belongings in big black trash bags, getting court teddys, parents pretending to be parents, dealing with anger and frustrations and so on). Some moments stand out quite well, especially the parts where therapy is brought in. However, as it’s shown, not all therapy works because the children are so attuned to the system they know what’s coming up. So it becomes a greater challenge for the parents to assimilate with the kids.
The Not So Best Bits
My main issue during the movie was its tonality. This confused me at times on where the movie is supposed to stand. These moments struck out the most during the parents support group—which was filled with stereotyped characters, from a typical conservative Christian couple to bi-racial couple, to bi-racial gay couple and single overachiever mother (referencing the white woman in The Blind Side).
Some of the actions on the part of the parents felt a little off too—actions that made me think ‘would they really have done that?’ One scene stands out when they confront Jacob, the guy Lizzie is sexting to. It felt a little far-fetched, but then again, this was a comedy movie inspired by true events.
Flawed but Well-Intentioned
By no means, Instant Parents is a perfectly made movie, but the movie did have its heart in all the right places. Isabela Moner (Lizzie) is a great actress and showed a huge range of emotions without being typical or stereotyped. The dialogue felt real. The situation felt real. The courtroom scenes felt real. In one courtroom scene, the judge plays Starship’s Nothing Gonna Stop Us Now and Pete talks wipe away tears. Needless to say, I did have an emotional moment in the end.
The ending is predictable, but Instant Parents is all about the journey, and what a warm, loving and joyfully journey it’s been.
4 out of 5
Director: Sean Anders
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Rose Byrne, Isabela Moner, Octavia Spencer
Genre: Family, Comedy Drama
Synopsis: Pete and Ellie Wagner seek to adopt a child, but end up adopting three children, with lots of drama, issues along the way.
Time: 119 minutes
Rating: 82% Rotten Tomatoes
Seen: Cinepax, Packages Mall, Lahore