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Real life lessons from writer-director Sean Anders leads to an “Instant Family”

Updated: Aug 21, 2019


Pete and Ellie Wagner (Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne) visit Lizzy, Juan and Lita at their foster parents home, with the hope to become their new parents.


Paramount only released the 4K Ultra HD version with HDR10 & Dolby Vision on the Streaming platforms. 4K frame shots courtesy of Paramount Home Media Distribution


4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital copy; 2018; PG-13 for thematic elements, sexual material and language and some drug references; Streaming via Amazon Video/Prime, FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play (4K), iTunes, (4K), Vudu (4K), YouTube (4K)

Best extra: Audio commentary with Director/Writer Sean Anders and Writer John Morris

THINKING ABOUT fostering and eventually adopting a child? “Instant Family” will give you a sugar-coated version of what it might be like.

That’s not because director/writer Sean Anders and his wife didn’t go through the process in real-life. They did. It’s because this drama-comedy tries to hit all the stereotypical characters and issues in the length of a modern-day movie.

It’s predictable. A couple without children (Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne as Pete and Ellie Wagner) decides something is missing in their lives. They have a lot to give, so they go the foster-care adoption route. It’s a tough road. But they’re committed and attend classes for two months.

Pete starts to have second thoughts about foster-care adoption when he sees all the children who need a home.

Pete and Ellie attend their first foster-care adoption class.

Foster parent professionals and class teachers Sharon (Tig Notaro) and Karen (Octavia Spencer) respond to the people in their weekly group foster-parent group sessions.

In foster-care adoption classes, prospective parents learn about all the ways children can be cut off from their families and the community.

Lizzy (Isabela Moner) gives Pete and Ellie a taste of her maturity the first time she runs into them at an adoption picnic.

Instead of going for one child, maybe an infant, they decide to take a family of three instead of breaking them up. Things are smooth at first. Then the honeymoon is over; the birth mom gets out of prison and wants her children back. Will Pete and Ellie keep the children? Will the children, including a willful teenager, decide to trust this couple and realize they’re in for the long-haul?

Yes. No spoilers here.

Anders’ personal experience saves the movie on some levels, bringing some humor into a process that can be daunting, thankless and, in many instances, emotionally painful. Isabela Moner, who plays the teenager Lizzy, brings a lot of truth to her cardboard-cutout role. Actors Academy-Award winner Octavia Spencer and Tig Notaro, who play Karen and Sharon, share a chemistry as the caring albeit realistic foster parenting professionals.

The bonus features lend credence to Anders’ and co-writer John Morris’ attempt to raise the bar on a family flick with a serious bent. Paramount has put quite a few on the Blu-ray disc and streaming versions. The commentary also adds insight to Morris and Anders’ relationship as friends and filmmakers starting back in 2005 with “Never Been Thawed.” Morris bets no one listening to the audio commentary has seen the movie, which grossed less than $47,000 in the USA, according to

He's probably right. The two have had more successful writing turns, including “Daddy’s Home,” “Daddy’s Home Two,” and 2010’s surprise hit, “Hot Tub Time Machine.”

Ellie tells her family she and Pete are going to adopt through foster parenting. Her family is less than supportive at first.

Lizzy, now living with Pete and Ellie, gets to repaint her room. Black is her choice much to Ellie’s dismay.

Lita pitches a fit at the Christmas dinner table because Ellie and Pete won’t let her eat only potato chips.


Paramount’s decision to only provide the streaming sites with the 4K upconverted master with HDR10 and Dolby Vision toning is no surprise. The visuals from cinematographer Brett Pawlak are straight forward (TV-like) without any profound visual style, captured on 2.8/3.4K digital cameras (2.39:1 aspect ratio) in Atlanta subbing for California. The 4K does provide expansive contrast levels with deeper blacks and brighter highlights and its trademark lifelike color palette – especially with facing toning. It’s what makes the format truly cinematic.

The overall sharpness is nearly a dead heat between the 4K and HD versions. It trades the finest detail you notice more readily on 4K discs with costume texture and facial markings. Streaming sites dial down the overall bit-rate to get the signal to your home, while 4K disc gives a fuller visual expression, which widens its advantage over HD.


The Blu-ray provides the superior fidelity with the six-channel uncompressed DTS-HD soundtrack, while the streaming sites use a compressed Dolby Digital Plus six-channel soundtrack. The dialogue on both formats is straight forward from your center speaker and the music cues from composer Michael Andrews with an ‘80s synthesizer touch.

The honeymoon is more than over between Lizzy and Ellie and Jack. Lizzy was grounded, but she’s defying her parents.

Lizzy tells Ellie and Pete she doesn’t have to listen to them.

During the argument with Lizzy, accident-prone Juan drops a nail gun that shoots him in his foot. He is rushed to the ER.

Ellie and Lizzy share a tender moment when Ellie combs the tangles out of Lizzy’s hair.

If you are a Wahlberg or Byrne fan, you might want to delve more into the features and the commentary. After all, there’s nothing wrong with a feel-good movie.

The extras include a peek inside Anders’ foster-care parenting story and the journey that eventually leads to a courtroom to legalize the adoption. There’s a look at the child actors in the movie, including audition material, as well as some of the adult actors including Spencer and Notaro, a gag reel, deleted/extended scenes and a Moner music video.

You also get to meet some real-life parents who adopted their foster children; a foster daughter in her early 20’s who consulted on the movie and a real on-set proposal of two film-makers.

Just remember, though, this movie isn’t a documentary on becoming a foster parent. It’s Hollywood, eh.

Toni Guagenti and Bill Kelley III, High-Def Watch producer

Ellie and Pete meet Lizzy, Juan and Lita’s birth-mother Carla.

In court, Lizzy smiles when her birth mother tells the judge she’s ready to be a mom again ...

... and Carla, though, might not be telling the truth.

Is this goodbye, or just the beginning for the entire Wagner family?





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