When I first saw the trailer for Instant Family, I was excited yet prepared for the worst. Unfortunately, I have not seen a movie with an adoptive or foster storyline tell those stories well.
Instant Family is an instant hit, and it is clearly evident that its creators did their research before creating this family classic. Grab your friends, your family, and—if you have any emotional bone in your body—all the tissues you can find and settle in for the emotional roller coaster that is foster care and adoption.
Instant Family, noted to be inspired by a true story, follows couple Ellie and Pete Wagner who run a successful house-flipping business (very reminiscent of Chip and Joanna Gaines of Fixer Upper fame). A sudden conversation about having children thrusts them into the world of foster care. Seeking a young child, as is typical of many foster placements, they find themselves convinced into taking on a teenager and two young children—all siblings. After a brief honeymoon phase, they find themselves faced with many challenges, some that simply happen with any child, and some unique to children who have been in the system for far too long. The Wagners will have to face the challenges of raising children, the rules of the foster care system, the court of public opinion, and the many curve balls that come with most foster care situations.
It is easy to tell only one side of the foster care story: either the side of the typical “white savior” storyline or the horrible, dirty, “just in it for the money” foster parent storyline. Instant Family does an excellent job of touching on both sides, making sure to acknowledge the “white savior” perspective and the fact that not all placements are good homes. It is so important to not ignore the fact that there is a little truth to all perspectives. This movie also does justice to the diversity of foster parents including foster parents of all ethnicities, sexualities, and genders. This movie allows audiences to laugh at the ridiculous expectations people have about foster care and parenthood while being very blunt about the realities of the weaknesses of the system.
There are a few uncomfortable portions of the movie that are clearly to show the reality of the struggle many foster parents and children go through and the growth that has to occur for all involved. The usually internalized thoughts of some foster parents going through an incredibly tough placement are laid out for the audience and give foster parents everywhere the opportunity to say, “I’ve been there. I’ve thought that. I’m not alone.” Instant Family also doesn’t shy away from the hard topics of reunification and trauma. There were many in the audience audibly crying during many of the scenes, and I am not ashamed to admit that included myself. Many in the theatre sat for a few moments at the end of the movie before heading out to compose themselves. I do not play around when I say to bring your tissues and get ready for the ugly cry.
If you have read any of my past reviews, you will know that I do not hesitate to tell the truth of my opinion if a story misses the mark. With Instant Family, its only downfall was that the end was wrapped up a little too quickly. However, this wasn’t a failure. But simply more that I was left wanting to know more about where their journey would take them, a story that couldn’t be told in a two-hour time frame. There is little else to say other than this movie is just SO GOOD. I have rarely been more relieved, and was more than pleasantly surprised, that Hollywood took the time to do adoption and foster care right. Thank you to the cast and crew of Instant Family for doing justice to the foster/adoption community and for creating a movie that speaks to all of us, raises awareness that is both realistic and engaging, and encourages those in the audience considering foster care and/or adoption.
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