Instant Family Movie Review: An Adoptive Mom's Perspective - Real Mom Recs

Instant Family Movie Review: An Adoptive Mom’s Perspective

If you’re an adoptive parent, you’ve probably cringed many times at the way adoption is portrayed on screen. Overly simplified, sickeningly sweet, and often with a white savior theme, adoption movies always seem to fail at showing the realities we face. Is Instant Family more of the same? Or is there finally an adoption movie that gets it right? Read on for my review of the Paramount Pictures film Instant Family!

Instant Family movie review

I was invited to a pre-screening of the movie Instant Family. All opinions are 100% my own.

Based on a true story

Instant Family is based on the real-life story of a couple who decided they wanted children later in life, and ended up with three children from the foster care system.

Pete (played by Mark Wahlberg) and Ellie (Rose Byrne) find themselves in over their heads when they bring home the sibling set, which includes rebellious 15 year old Lizzy, accident-prone Juan, and undisciplined little Lita.

Hilarity ensues, as well as some serious struggles. The complexities surrounding adoption, including attachment issues and birth family involvement, are not left out!

Instant Family movie review

Pete and Ellie dive headfirst into the foster care process with enthusiasm, like so many of us do. They are confident in their abilities despite the reservations of friends and family. They believe that their stable loving home will be the miracle fix these children need. After a brief honeymoon period, they are thrown into reality when they see how difficult a job parenting broken children actually is.

Not sugar-coated

Sure, there are a couple scenes that are slightly sappy, but overall I love how this movie keeps it real. Each of the children have challenging behavior, as all children in foster care do. They do not immediately accept the authority of their foster parents, and they go through periods of testing them and their intentions.

The most “real” scene of all is where Pete and Ellie question why they ever got themselves this mess. They honestly state how they miss their old lives, and consider giving the children back. This is a stage that every foster parent goes through and rarely ever talk about. No, it’s not pretty- and neither is adopting a sibling group from foster care!

Secondary characters

Instant Family movie review

The scenes with the social workers (played by Tig Navaro and Octavia Spencer) hit it out of the park every time. Hysterically funny and incredibly relatable, you will recognize many foster parent stereotypes in the class they train to become foster parents.

Grandma Sandy, played by Margo Martindale also provides fantastic comic relief as she bursts into the scenes when times are getting tough for Pete, Ellie, and the kids.

A word of caution for parents

I brought my ten year old daughter (whom I adopted from foster care) with me to see the film. My initial concerns that the plot might trigger her as a former foster child were unfounded. I’m happy to say she related more to the takeaway message of love and family triumphing over adversity.

What I was not completely prepared for was the amount of profanity and sexual innuendos in the movie. None of it was offensive to me personally, it was just unexpected as I had considered this to be a movie made for families to watch together. Given references to things like masturbation and “dick pics”, I would not consider this a family movie.

However if you have teens, the movie could bring up some educational talking points around these topics. I’d recommend the movie for age 14 and up.

All the feels

In sum, I can safely say Instant Family will make you feel something, whether you’ve lived through a similar experience or not. I laugh so hard I cried, and I also just plain cried!

This movie will make you think about your life and what is truly important. Pete and Ellie traded their pristine home and seemingly “perfect” life for one that is messy and complicated, but so much more meaningful.

I’m extremely confident that this movie will inspire more people to go out and become foster parents. And they will not go into it blind to the realities of the process! Because YES, absolutely it will be hard- but it will also be so very, very worth it.

Don’t miss Instant Family in theaters November 16!

Directed by: Sean Anders

Written by: Sean Anders and John Morris

What did YOU think of the movie? Let me know in the comments!



Adoptive mom, biological mom, slacker mom, Disney mom, and above all things a REAL mom. Fan of blogging, sleeping, and pretending not to hear my kids fight.


  1. Thank you for this honest review! I am an adoptive parent and a Disney local. We did not adopt through foster care, but I am always watchful for the way adoption is portrayed in film. I don’t want to ban anything, but I do want to be prepared before hand!

  2. I was adopted by my grandmother when I was very little. It was a tough time, with her fighting for custody and going through a custody battle.
    I do find that PG-13 movies have a lot of inappropriate things in them lately! My recommendation is checking out the parents guide at IMDB. I see there’s not much on there now since it’s a new movie, but I remember someone telling me that Guardians of the Galaxy would be fine for a young child and when we checked out IMDB, it lists all the swear words and inappropriate stuff. It’s a great tool!

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