Friday, November 16, 2018

Instant Family Adoption Movie Review

Pete and Ellie have enjoyed their lives as a childless couple. They develop houses and have freedom that others might envy. Each believes that the other has no intention to have children, but they have not talked deeply about it. After a conversation with relatives, Ellie starts thinking about having children. Pete makes an offhanded joke; he is too old to have an infant – but if he adopted a five-year-old child it would seem like he started having children at a reasonable age. Pete gives no further thought to his joke, but Ellie begins researching adoption, and her heart is touched by the profiles of children on AdoptUSKids, a website geared towards recruiting adoptive parents for children waiting in the foster care system. Pete’s heart is also eventually touched, and Pete and Ellie begin their journey towards certification as foster-adoptive parents; they ultimately meet Lizzy, Juan and Lita at a matching event. The film follows them through a very realistic experience of the California foster and adoption system, through their certification, matching process, and placement.

The Adoption Connection
Filmmaker Sean Anders based this film on his journey through the foster-adoption system. The challenges, processes, doubts, and joys that Pete, Ellie, and the children experience are very realistic. The film captures the foster-adoption experience thoroughly without being exploitative. Pete and Ellie express the real doubts that many foster-adoptive parents experience; Lizzy, Juan and Lita encounter and present challenges that are realistic to many children in foster care. Instant Family is honest without being overanxious.

*Spoilers ahead throughout the rest of the review*

Strong Points

Instant Family accurately, compassionately and optimistically captures the foster-adoption experience. It will resonate with many that have adopted from foster care, and will be helpful for those considering adoption from foster care.
Although Lizzy, Juan and Lita – and Pete and Ellie – all have mixed feelings at times about the placement, they work through their motivations, feelings and doubts responsibly, and ultimately finalize their adoption.

Instant Family provides a lighthearted opportunity to explore and challenge several of the misconceptions that people have about adoption; the film explores peoples’ fear of adopting teenagers, unrealistic expectations of adopted children, fear of openness with a child’s birth family. It also challenges the unfortunate connection that some people make between pet adoption and the adoption of children. It explores questions of identity (Pete and Ellie temporarily feel as though they’re “babysitting someone else’s kid.”) They stand up against the insensitive comments made by their extended family. They don’t give up when their kids are resistant to bonding. This has the potential to be such a helpful film. The agency that Pete and Ellie go through is the real-life agency most closely connected to defining the Seven Core Issues in Adoption (Grief, Loss, Rejection, Guilt, Identity, Intimacy, Control). The film is very theoretically sound and healthy in its approach to adoption.


When Pete and Ellie express their doubts and fears, they appear to consider sending Lizzy, Juan and Lita back. Other prospective adoptive parents talk insensitively about their expectations of the children they hope to adopt. These are realistic conversations, but would likely be triggering to children and pre-teens touched by adoption, as well as some teenagers.   


As a long-time foster-adoption social worker, I love Instant Family. I don’t recommend it for kids; I think there’s a lot of material that could be triggering for children touched by adoption because it’s so real – but for adoptive parents or people considering adoption, this is a perfect opportunity to explore many of the real-life aspects of foster care adoption. It’s funny and entertaining, and has the potential to help prospective adoptive parents be more thoughtful and better-prepared. Because of this, it can have a positive impact on kids waiting to be adopted. Instant Family has Adoption at the Movies’ strong recommendation.

Questions for Discussion

How did Pete and Ellie end up with three kids? What challenges did this bring, and how did they overcome the challenges?

How helpful was the support group for Pete and Ellie? How do you think the support group impacted their parenting?

Which do you think would have been the hardest moment for Pete and Ellie? How did they remain committed to their kids?

What growth did Pete and Ellie need within themselves to be able to be the parents that their children needed?

How does Lizzy feel about her birthmother Brenda? How can Pete and Ellie best honor that moving forward?

What moment most touched your heart?

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