Instant Family is an instant charmer. It’s a message movie that balances the funny with the feels and could very well raise critical awareness and interest in foster care and adoption. The film was written and directed by Sean Anders (Daddy’s Home) who drew on his own family story for inspiration. Just like the main characters in Instant Family, Anders and his wife took in three siblings born to a drug addict mom. Their journey was fraught with challenges – and laughter. So they decided to put that experience into the cinematic universe to help demystify the foster care and adoption process and celebrate the true meaning of family.

The film stars Mark Wahlberg (Patriot’s Day, Ted, The Fighter) and Rose Byrne (Peter Rabbit, Juliet Naked, Neighbors) as a fun-loving couple who decide they’re ready to start a family, then stumble into the world of foster care adoption. Their grand plan to adopt one small child morphs into a whole different scenario when they meet a rebellious teenage girl named Lizzy (Isabela Moner) and her younger siblings, Juan (Gustavo Quiroz) and Lita (Julianna Gamiz).

Comedy and drama ensues as Pete (Wahlberg) and Ellie (Byrne) struggle to adapt to instant parenthood and connect to three kids who’ve had a rough go of it over the past several years, bouncing around foster homes while waiting for their mother to get clean. Octavia Spencer and Tig Notaro are seriously funny as foster care facilitators and leaders of a support group for new foster parents. Julie Hagerty and Margo Martindale shine as grandmas Jan and Sandy. And Joan Cusack pops up in a hilarious cameo as a neighbor.

Instant Family has a two-hour running time but moves at a steady clip as it keeps the humor flowing while still navigating some sad and scary terrain. It’s rated PG-13 for thematic material, language and drug references that may not be appropriate for little kids, though the youngsters in attendance seemed to be okay with most of it.

The film succeeds in what it set out to do. It’s sweet and funny and authentic. To drive the point home, it ends with heartwarming photos of real foster families and adoptees as well as a call to action to visit to learn more about foster care and adoption. Just in time for the holidays!

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