I tend to be hyper critical of movies portraying adoption. I have a close connection to the material as a trans-racial adoptee and also as a social work student who has seen the power of narratives and discourse can influence actual social work practice. It’s rare that I’ve seen a movie portray adoption accurately (save for the movie LION, the true story of adoptee Saroo Brierly). However, I left Instant Family with wet eyes and cheeks strained from laughing.
The movie evolves from the real life story of Director Sean Anders and his wife who adopted 3 children from foster care. The movie portrays the experience of adopting children out of the foster care system- the struggles and the joys that accompany that process.
It's accurate in how we often see and hear about adoption from an adoptive parent perspective including typical stereotypes (i.e. Christian family looking to do good, parents wanting a specific type of child). To stop at this place would leave this movie lacking and only shedding light on what adoption shouldn't be.
Instead, we get to walk alongside, the couple and future parents, played by Rose Bryne and Mark Wahlberg throughout the journey as they come to terms with how different their expectations are from reality. The best thing the movie does is that we see them learn and grow, take advice and support and ultimately never give up on their children.
One of my favorite things about the movie is the inclusion of social workers (excellent social workers) played by Octavia Spencer and Tig Notaro who really shine a light on how critical having competent social workers are to the process. They’re knowledgeable, tough, and have the best interests of young people at the heart of everything they do. How lucky we all might have been to have social workers like these.
Another excellent aspect of the story was that they chose to not shy away from issues like birth parent access and family reunification.
The story didn't stop when the children got settled at into their new home, and it didn't stop when the really tough challenges came up– even the really big one- disruption. This is something that is often not talked about in adoption and yet happens often.
Without giving too much away as you really should see it yourself, the children and the family struggle with the possibility of disruption and the parents do one of the most wise and selfless things you can do as an adoptive parent -consider the best interest of children over the idea of the family you created.
The movie seamlessly moves from comedy to serious moments but at the heart of the story is a real, accurate, and heartwarming adoption story. I really commend the directors for including trans racial, sibling group and trauma issues.
Movies have power, stories have power and this is one done right.
Author: Ashley Ash, Member of NTL Team
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