Thinking they may take in one small child as first-time foster parents, childless couple Pete (Mark Wahlberg) and Ellie (Rose Byrne) encounter first a challenging teenage girl, and then, her younger sister and brother. Feeling led to try fostering the kids, Pete and Ellie quickly move from a marriage with no children to becoming an Instant Family with all its challenges, hilarity, and joys.
The heartwarming comedy Instant Family is inspired by real events from the life of writer/director/producer Sean Anders. It is honest and even rough and raw at times. Due to the true-to-life, hurtful sexual references, some obscenity, politically correct system issues, and the use of the Lord’s name in vain, this movie is most suitable for adults who are considering fostering and/or adopting. The movie authentically presents the challenges and joys of developing foster and adoptive families as they positively move towards a transformed new normal.
The acting, especially of Rose Byrne who was the charming, comedic female lead in Peter Rabbit, is entertaining. The soft side of Mark Wahlberg is endearing. The film also features Octavia Spencer, who is delightful as usual. The comedic genre facilitates acceptance of the difficult challenges in the family’s process of moving towards a new and better normal life together.
Instant Family is an authentic, entertaining look at the challenges and joys of fostering and adopting children. It delightfully presents the honeymoon and adjustment stages of foster and adoptive families. It gives a heart-felt, honest view of kids who need good families to heal, love, and care for them.
Sonoma Christian Home enjoyed an exclusive one-on-one, face-to-face interview with Sean Anders. The interview was especially touching and heartfelt as Sean shared his personal experiences in fostering and adopting his children. SCH Editor at Large Dr. Diane Howard reports.
SCH: What have you personally gained from having children?
SA: I have learned the value of humor. I have learned to check myself and my values. I have developed a sense of wonder with them. They have slowed me down to enjoy what is most important.
SCH: What do you think are one of the greatest needs of foster and adopted children?
SA: They struggle with a sense of shame.
SCH: How can they overcome a sense of shame?
SA: They need to develop a sense of pride in their survival and resilience. They need a sense of purpose.
SCH: What are some models for adopted children developing resilience and a sense of purpose?
SA: I love the story of Mully on which a documentary movie is based. He has adopted countless street children in Kenya and given them a sense of purpose. The older ones help the younger ones. (Mully is an incredible documentary about the life and work of Charles Mully, his devoted wife, and his biological children. They have worked to rescue and rehabilitate over 12,000 homeless, street children in Kenya so they can go back to their tribes as doctors, teachers, and other trained professionals to serve the ones who originally abandoned them. It is one of the most astonishing, inspiring true stories of rescue and rehabilitation of street children in all history. The Mully Children’s Family is an invaluable role model for the whole world of how faith and hard work can turn a desert of hopelessness into an oasis of eternal hope.)
SCH: Why do you want to write, direct, and produce movies with heart and hope?
SA: We need more movies that are not mean-spirited.
SCH: What was one of your greatest surprises about foster and adoptive kids?
SA: They never stop surprising me. The biggest surprise has been that they are just normal kids.
SCH: The movie is based on your own experiences. Have you also based it on the experiences of others?
SA: Yes, the movie is based on the real experiences of those involved at all levels in foster care and adoption.
SCH: Now with children in your life, what do you find most important?
SA: Children are a blessing. Love, purpose, and meaning are what matter most.
While foster care and adoption are serious matters for film, Anders is also comfortable with highlighting the lighthearted aspects of the subject because he wants to tell his personal funny experiences with fostering and adopting. When Sean and his wife made the life-altering decision to adopt three biological siblings after fostering them, he says, “…a lot of the things that happened were funny and a lot of it was frustrating. To go into a situation where you bring people into your home who all of a sudden become your children and you don’t even know them, and they don’t know you; it is just like a comedy of manners right out of the gate.”
He continues, “I thought it would be great if …I could make a comedy about this subject matter without it having to be a gut-wrenching drama that people would be afraid to see. We could do the movie in this way because my real-life experience was funny, warm, and heartbreaking. I hope that this movie helps lead to kids finding families and homes.”
Anders further explains “…when I decided to write the story, I went back and started talking to my old social worker and met with more families and kids. The comedy that appears in the film came together because a lot happened to me or to other people who shared their story and situations.”
Mark Wahlberg, who has now starred in three of Anders’ films, believes Sean’s personal experience “ …gives it (the movie) an emotional anchor, and just an honesty and authenticity that makes it profoundly emotional and personal. And it’s something that everybody can identify with…it’s… a very feel good movie in a time where people need to feel good.”
Anders admits, “…I’m drawn to happy endings… To do a movie that has a really warm heart and can make people feel good yet has a way to take people into some darker places is honest. It is not fake or made up because I’ve met parents who have gone through journeys way harder than mine or the characters’ in the movie. The one thing that they all have in common is that every one of them said they wouldn’t have it any other way. That was a reason why I just thought this is definitely a movie that can be a comedy and can be warmhearted.”
John Morris, who collaborated with Anders on the script, says. “We used a lot of Sean’s mistakes for comedic purposes… We based it on a woman we met named Maraide Green who came from foster care. We implemented some of her story into the script. She inspired us and gave us ideas. We brought her from LA to Atlanta where we shot and made her a consultant on the movie. She is fantastic.”
Anders recalls: “She (Maraide) gave us a bunch of great notes and helped us dial it in a bit to make it more honest and, in some cases, brutally honest.” Some of what they added was lifted directly from Maraide’s real life.
Mariade Green explains, “I was adopted when I was 13, before that I was in and out of the system…I first got taken away from my mom when I was eight because she was using drugs and she had abusive boyfriends. I ended up living in group homes and foster homes for a little while until I moved back with her. Everything was going good for a while but then she started using again. I ended up going back into the system and lived in a couple of foster homes. I had one where I lived for a while and I thought that I was going to get adopted but it ended up not working out, so I got sent to another home and luckily, they adopted me. So, I gained four new siblings and my parents and it’s good. I’m now 20 years old and I go to UCLA, which was my dream forever.”
Maraide recalls, “After I met Sean, he sent me the script…I sent it back to him with a bunch of notes, saying this would never happen, this doesn’t make sense, etc. I love that he wanted it to be so honest. If you’ve been in the system and you see this movie, you’re just going to really connect to it because he made it so real…I was excited that this movie is telling the story of kids in foster care without it being an intense drama. That’s what I like about it the most because you can laugh.”
Maraide hopes that the film might change the perception of kids in foster care.
She says, “Children that are in foster care are not weird or ruined or crazy little kids with all of these issues. They’re just kids. And they’ve gone through some hard stuff; but they’re still worth it, they can still make it, and they could still do all these incredible things if you love them.”
Some of the research and inspiration that Anders and Morris got while writing the film was also from Allison Maxon, a social worker with the Kinship Center where Sean and his wife adopted their three children. Morris explains: “Allison helped by connecting us with parents who had adopted through the foster care system. We wanted both sides of the stories, so we spoke to both the adoptive parents and the children from the foster care system.”
Maxon adds, “Some of what you see Pete and Ellie going through in the movie are the real-life ups and downs that do happen to our families… Sean was able to capture that in the script. He wasn’t writing from the outside in. He was writing it based on his own experience.”
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