Instant Family is a charming comedy film with a difference, tackling subjects of fostering and adoption with honesty, poignancy and heart. A winning combination.
Telling the story of a couple (Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne) who adopt three young children, Instant Family is based in part on the filmmaker’s own experience of adopting three siblings.
UNILAD spoke to director and co-writer Sean Anders about his most personal project to date, adoption and working with Wahlberg.
You can watch the trailer here:
UNILAD: The film is quite personal to you. Why did you decide to make it?
SEAN: It was originally my writing partner actually, John Morris, it was his idea. I had been telling him all these stories from my wife and I adopting. We were probably about three years into the process, and John said, ‘you know, we should think about doing a movie about this’.
He said ‘before you started telling me about all this, I didn’t think about how any of this worked’. And I thought yeah, I didn’t know anything about it either until I got involved. There have been a lot of movies where people wind up adopting kids, but you never see any of the realities of the process.
UNILAD: I agree. Before watching the movie I knew nothing about adoption, and it is quite eye-opening. I enjoyed how it touched upon some of the harsh realities, for example the girl who relapses and when the kids’ mum comes back. Why did you decide to include these storylines?
SEAN: I had met a lot of people through our support group, and when John and I started writing, the first thing we did was sit down with lots of other families. There were so many stories, and I wanted to touch on plenty of different aspects of what people go through.
These were common stories that were coming up over and over again; somebody’s birth parent coming back, or you mention the relapse. What I love about that scene is that you see yes, the girl is struggling, but the difference now is she has parents that care about her and are rooting for her. That’s a huge difference for somebody who is struggling like that, and was previously tackling it alone.
UNILAD: It is one of my favourite scenes of the film! So you have adopted kids. What experiences from this did you draw inspiration from, or make reference to in the film?
SEAN: Too many to mention! All of the thoughts and feelings definitely. For example, Pete is scared at first to be involved, but when he hears the girl’s speech, he gets very fired up about it.
That was similar to my feelings. After I made the joke to my wife and she started to take it very seriously, I didn’t want any part of it at first. But when we started to hear some stories, it went from being a general idea to being very real.
UNILAD: Do you think there are misconceptions about adoption and fostering which need to be addressed?
SEAN: Absolutely. I think the biggest misconception is people think they have a general idea about who these kids are, and they think these are kids from the other side of the tracks, these are kids with problems, these are people to be feared.
But this isn’t true. These kids are dealing with real trauma and situations nobody at their age should have to deal with. But these kids as a result of some of that, they have a strength and resilience that isn’t common in kids their age, and above all they are just kids.
UNILAD: So have your kids seen the film and if so, what did they think of it?
SEAN: They love it but they have seen it too many times now…
UNILAD: That surely must be a good thing?/strong>
SEAN: Yeah. They have been part of the process from the start; I kept talking to them about the script, they came to visit the set, when I was editing they would be there and they would come to some of the test screenings too. They love it, but they have seen enough of it!
UNILAD: Do you hope your film helps people gain a better understanding of adoption and fostering, and encourages others to pursue that path?
SEAN: We have seen so many people on social media say they have seen the movie and are now thinking about adoption and fostering. I love seeing that because while I know the reality is very few people will go see a movie then decide to adopt, my hope is that it will inspire people to get involved, but more than anything it changes people’s minds.
So when the time comes for them or someone they know to get involved, instead of cautioning them, which is what a lot of people do, after seeing this movie they will say ‘wow, that’s amazing, you should do that, it will be wonderful’. For my wife and I, it is the best thing that has happened.
UNILAD: I understand you were originally matched with a teenage girl, but she declined a placement. In the film Pete and Ellie match with Lizzy, and end up adopting her. Was Lizzy partly inspired by the teenager?
SEAN: Yes, absolutely. We went to this adoption fair, we didn’t go there to meet a teenager and it was scary when we put her name down on the sheet. She ended up declining the placement as she was holding out hope her mum was coming for her.
We were told the girl and her brother and sister had been in social care for four years, and the social workers felt like it was probably not going to work out with their mum, and the mum hadn’t shown any signs of wanting to get back together.
When writing the teenage character, I never forgot that girl. What you see in the movie, the situation she is in with her birth mum, that is all inspired by the girl we met.
UNILAD: I just want to talk about the casting. You have worked with Mark Wahlberg a couple of times now. What drew you to him again?
SEAN: Mark is just great to work with; he is professional and one of those rare people who shows up super prepared for every moment.
On top of that, we wanted the character of Pete to be the kind of guy people think of who might not be open to the idea of foster care and adoption. We didn’t want him to have any social worker qualities, and I don’t really have any of these qualities. Mark comes at everything with this amazing sincerity, and from the beginning that’s what I wanted from Pete, a regular but sincere guy. When he connects with someone, he connects deeply.
UNILAD: I particularly love the bit when he compares the kids to rescue dogs, and I also really enjoy it when he takes Lizzy to smash up the house.
SEAN: You mention the rescue dog comparison scene… That’s another reason why Mark was so perfect for this part, he can deliver dialogue like that because he has an earnestness to him, you don’t feel like he is being derogatory. That scene in particular, I can’t imagine anyone else delivering it in the same way Mark did.
UNILAD: The tone is very much comedic and dramatic. When writing the script, was this what you were going for or did it come as it developed?
SEAN: I’m really glad you asked that question. It is interesting to hear the way that people respond to the tone of the movie. The vast majority really get what we were going for with the tone. Some people felt it was uneven, going from really funny to really sad in the course of the same scene.
But that was always intentional, as that is how it felt when we were in the throws of the hardest days of becoming parents; you would go from something sad happening to immediately something hilarious breaking up that darker moment. I wanted to capture that in the movie. I wanted that tone to be a rollercoaster ride, I think the vast majority of people will get that.
Instant Family arrives on Blu-ray, DVD and Download & Keep on June 10 from Paramount Home Media Distribution.
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Emily Murray is a journalist at UNILAD. She graduated from the University of Leeds with a BA in English Literature and History before studying for a Masters in Journalism at the University of Salford. Emily has previously worked for the BBC, ITV and Trinity Mirror. When Emily isn’t writing about topics including mental health and entertainment, you can find her at the cinema which is her second home.