Although it has some flaws, Instant Family is a sweet story that feels refreshingly authentic.
The movie follows a couple’s decision to foster children and the mayhem that ensues. They foster three kids; one is a teenage girl, one is a pre-teen boy and one is a young girl. As predicted, fostering is harder than they expected, but the story focuses on how they all come together despite the difficulties.
I do not have any experience with the foster care system, but from my outsider’s view I can say that the kids reacted to their changing homes the way I would have expected them to. I also appreciate that they all reacted differently.
One of my favorite parts of the film was the kids’ interactions with their foster grandmothers. Any scenes involving the grandmothers were both laugh-out-loud funny and very relatable. In one particular scene one of the grandmothers inadvertently lets the kids give her a Sharpie beard. Not only were the characters well written, but both Julie Hagerty and Margo Matindale’s gave exceptional performances.
In fact, most of the acting was excellent. The couple’s relationship seemed real and tangible, and all of the young actors abilities to convey their characters’ emotions were remarkable.Most notable, perhaps was Isabela Moner’s performance. The character’s undying wit and sarcastic persona were one of the most enjoyable parts of the movie. She seizes the audience’s attention from the second you meet her and she doesn’t let go.
Despite its many positive attributes, the film was not without its flaws. Although I appreciated latino representation on-screen, the way in which the film approached it didn’t sit well with me. The main couple is white and the film frames them as heroes for plucking the kids up from the drug use and addiction that they were otherwise expected to fall into. However, one of the white foster parents does acknowledge this fact and the film does deserve credit for acknowledging that.
Additionally, the way the story tackled queer representation did not make the cut. The parents of the story are part of a foster parent support group and there is one gay couple in the group. The couple is made up of two men, which seems to fall in line with Hollywood’s pattern of representing only homosexual men. One of the men is the living embodiment of the gay man stereotype. He is sassy, dresses better than everyone around him, and very physically affectionate.
Another problem I had with the film was the way it portrayed one of it’s black female characters (portrayed by Octavia Spencer). She works in foster care with a white women (played by Tig Notaro) and although their contrasting personalities are funny, they seem to be supporting the ‘angry black woman’ stereotype. Davis’s character is constantly breaking rules and is much more emotional than her white counterpoint who is usually very reserved.
Looking behind the scenes, I feel compelled to point out that there is almost no diversity in the people who made the film. It was written by two white men, and one of them directed it. Out of eight producers there was only one woman. The music, cinematography, editing, and production design were all led by men. This is probably one of the reasons for the errors in the film’s representation.
The film has several problems with representation, but it did try and deserves credit for that. Ultimately, the film is a good story with emotionally developed characters that have strong relationships with each other.
Watch Instant Family out in Theaters now and see what you think