We need to talk about Instant Family – and assumptions about having kids

Three weeks into a new job and my brain has been so full every night that I’m posting this blog much later than I usually would. But the great thing is, this film really had an effect on me and I’m still thinking about it, even after three weeks.

Let me start by saying, Rose Byrne can do no wrong. And that’s not an opinion I offer with fear of backlash. Because if you don’t feel the same – you’re a monster. So good is she in fact, that filmmakers can put her alongside Mark Wahlberg – an actor that I feel walks a very thin line between someone I don’t mind watching and one that makes me want to never watch a film again – and she makes him look like someone that I quite like.

This is a blindingly painful setup to the fact that I want to talk about Instant Family – the latest film from Daddy’s Home director, Sean Anders. The movie sees Byrne and Wahlberg as a married couple who after thinking they don’t want kids, adopt three of them all at once.

My Sunday morning cinema choice came down to this and Alita: Battle Angel. And I went for the family romp because I was feeling a little delicate from a couple of beers the night before and didn’t think my constitution could take James Cameron’s latest CGI-love in. And boy, did I make the right choice. I loved this film.

I sat down with a cup of tea expecting something with a few one-liners and some well-timed jokes – maybe even a comedy fall or two. I thought there’d be a tough lesson the family can learn before all settling down to their happy ending. It’s a spoiler (although not a majorly unexpected one) to say that yes, all those things happen. But what I wasn’t expecting was a really honest and emotionally-draining two-hour film about the ups and downs of adoption.

Besides Rose Byrne and her assortment of lovely hats, the star of the show is Isabella Moner who plays 15-year old Lizzy. The film quickly highlights the issue with teenagers who end up in the foster home/adoption system because they often ‘age-out’ and can end up homeless.

The character that Moner has created is well aware of this and she plays Lizzy with just the right amount of fierce independence, anger beyond the stereotypical teenage angst and an incredibly sad want for someone to care for her. She’s the older sister to accident-prone Juan (Gustavo Quiroz) and excessively cute Lita (Julianna Gamiz), and does a great balancing act between being a teenager who’s not been given anywhere near enough love and the parental figure to her younger siblings.

And it’s not just Moner. The entire film feels like it’s doing a balancing act. With each step on the highwire, it shows an incredible amount of heart and just the right amount of comedy over a net that could have seen the film easily become overly-sappy or void of compassion.

At the very end of the film, before the credits, is a title that asks people to go to a website where you can find out more information about fostering and adoption. And on that site you can learn about the story of Sean Anders’ family and his adoptive kids. I think this film’s perfectly-executed performance from one side of the highwire to the other was made possible because someone who’s been a part of this very story is at the helm.

There’s no exposition or obvious device that tells you when to laugh and when it’s time to be serious because that’s not real life. There’s humour in serious moments and impactful events don’t always need to be treated with stoicism. The events of the film just happen effortlessly, shepherded by Byrne, Wahlberg, Moner and in a great supporting role, Octavia Spencer.

But on top of this, the film made me think a lot about families. Because when we talk about Instant Family, we need to talk about the assumption of having kids.

If you’d have asked me ten years ago at what age you start to get the questions about when you’re having kids, I don’t think I’d have been able to give you an exact age. But now, as someone approaching their 30th – an event that will just about coincide with two years of marriage, I can tell you it’s this age. My age – right now.

For the record, I’ve known that I wanted kids for a long time. I had jobs at a summer scheme and babysat for family friends. After that, the plan was to have a whole load of kids! But growing up, Mrs. Izzard didn’t have the same level of interaction with kids. The first baby she ever held was our nephew and I’ll never forget the fear in her eyes when he was handed to her. But we’ve now had ten years together in which we’ve welcomed a total of three nephews and a niece –  who we refuse to stop giving cuddles to, no matter how old they get – and growing up through our twenties together means we’ve had tons of conversations about what our future looks like with kids, and exactly which Atlanta Falcons kits we’ll be buying them first.

But in doing all of that, there are assumptions that we – as members of a society – will do things in a certain way. It’s assumed because we’re in love that we’ll get married and then have kids. And while that’s something we’d love to be in our future, saying that we’re planning on having kids is quite different from saying that Mrs Izzard and I are having kids.

The idea of having children of your own is an assumption that lots of people make, but when you think about it, it’s not always the case. A family doesn’t need to include biological kids in order to be a family. It can be anything; a couple, someone with twenty cats or biological, fostered and adopted kids.

Adoption is so often seen as a last resort – something you if you’re unable to have kids of your own. But the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve thought that shouldn’t be the case. If you’re in the position to help kids that are in need by adopting them, that’s something pretty special.

Because if there’s one thing that you find by going on the Instant Family website, it’s that there are plenty of kids that need loving homes. So why wouldn’t you think about adoption if it means helping a child? After all in 2017, there were more than 70,000 kids in the UK who were in care and the rate of adoptions has fallen. In the same year, only 4300 were adopted (according to a BBC news story). And of those kids who were looking for a home, 72% of them are over the age of two (adoption register statistics). Instant Family explained how the older a child is, the less chance they have one of being adopted. And that’s something that can be helped by people if adoption isn’t thought of as a last resort.

This film did have quite an affect on me. So much so that I walked home from the cinema hell-bent on convincing Mrs. Izzard to adopt as many kids as humanly possible. And while our flat isn’t about to be packed to the rafters, adoption is something we’ve talked about before and something we’ll certainly look at again.

Films are incredible. They can educate and inspire, even motivate you to take action about important cultural topics or ideas. But usually, the films that make you think about serious cultural topics are three-hour dramas that wear you down, not 12A family comedies with Mark Wahlberg.

And I don’t usually finish these posts on a serious note but I think this one might call for it. If you head to the film’s website at InstantFamily.org, you can learn more about fostering and adoption. It’s very US-centric but in the UK, the AdoptionUK website is just one that has lots of information not only about how you can adopt but how you can volunteer to help.

Sean Anders and his family



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