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The comedy Instant Family (PG-13) opens this weekend, telling the story of a couple who take in a teenage girl and her two younger siblings and see their lives transformed overnight.

Pete and Ellie are a work-centric couple who have voluntarily chosen not to have children, even though everyone around them does.

But they’re starting to doubt their decision.

It all started when Peter made a joke about adoption, and Ellie followed by researching “foster care” on the web. Soon, they were staring at Internet pictures of cute children who need a loving home. That led them to attending an orientation, which led them to fostering three children in their home, which led them to facing a difficult question: Should they adopt the trio of kids and make the adoption permanent?

The comedy Instant Family (PG-13) opens this weekend, telling the story of a couple who take in a teenage girl and her two younger siblings and see their lives transformed overnight. It was inspired by a true story and stars Mark Wahlberg (Transformers series) as Pete, Rose Byrne (Peter Rabbit) as Ellie, Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures) as a social worker named Karen, and Tig Notaro (Dog Days) as another social worker, Sharon.

The movie mixes humor and drama to discuss a serious subject – foster care – in a way that works well on the big screen. An estimated half a million children and youth are stuck in the foster care system at any one moment, looking for a permanent home.

Instant Family was inspired by events in the life of writer/director Sean Anders, who along with his wife adopted three siblings from foster care about seven years ago. He was surprised by the misconceptions about foster care and thought that a film could help families better understand the subject. A comedy rather than a drama, he believed, would make it easier to showcase the hills and valleys of foster families.

I laughed a lot and cried some, too, while watching Instant Family. But it’s not a family-friendly movie in the traditional use of the phrase.

Warning: minor/moderate spoilers!

(Scale key: none, minimal, moderate, extreme)


Minimal. In a scene played for laughs, Pete and Ellie beat up a man who was dating their teen daughter.


Minimal/moderate. Pete learns that his teen daughter has been taking nude selfies on a smartphone. She dresses immodestly in one scene and is sent back to her room to change. The film includes a couple of jokes about sex.

Coarse Language

Moderate/extreme. About 70 coarse words: s–t (18), a– (10), OMG (10), h–l (7), d–k (6), p-ss (5), d–n (2), misuse of “Jesus” (2), misuse of “God” (2), GD (2), JC (1), f-word (1), b–ch (3), p—y (1).

Other Positive Elements

Pete and Ellie may not view themselves as the model foster care parents, but they are. They display the courage, patience and unconditional love that is needed to foster and adopt. We also see them pray at the table before eating.

Other Stuff You Might Want To Know

A male gay couple is part of the orientation and then parental support group that Pete and Ellie attend. The couple is secondary in the plot but still plays an important role. A Christian couple is part of both groups, too.

Life Lessons

Instant Family provides multiple positive lessons related to adoption and foster care. Among them: lessons on selflessness, courage, patience, determination and perseverance. The movie, though, doesn’t sugarcoat the foster care process. We see the teen girl rebel, the awkward boy have accident after accident, and the young girl throw temper tantrums. We also see the family have challenges that are unique to adoptive families.


Adoption is a picture of the Gospel (Rom. 8:15). Scripture depicts God adopting us as children of wrath (Eph. 2:3-5) and transforming us into children of God (Eph. 1:5). In earthly adoption, a child is given a new name and a new home, and is often saved from a horrible situation, too.

Instant Family portrays that image through the actions of Pete and Ellie, even if it is couched in PG-13 content.

The movie also succeeds in helping us have compassion for all three parties: the birth mom, the children and the adoptive parents. At times, you’re not sure which situation would be best for the kids.

Not surprisingly, Instant Family also depicts all parenting structures – a mom and a dad, a gay couple, and a single parent – as being equally beneficial for a child. Scripture (Gen. 1:28, Gen. 2:24, Matt. 19:4-6), nature and common sense tell us otherwise. Ideally, children need a mother and father.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why didn’t Pete and Ellie already have children? What caused them to change their mind?
  2. Do you think the movie offers a balanced portrayal of the difficulties of adoption?
  3. What do you think the answer is to alieving the problem of 500,000 children and youth in foster care?
  4. How can you personally make a difference in foster care? (By adopting? Volunteering? Giving? Praying? Encouraging?)

Entertainment rating: 3 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, sexual material, language and some drug references.