How One Real Family Inspired The Most Heartfelt Comedy Of The Season

Yes, it's based on real life.

by Lia Beck
Originally Published: 

In the comedy Instant Family, a married couple decides to adopt a teenager from foster care and find out that she has two younger siblings who they would also need to take in. They go through with it, hijinks ensue, they all grow to love each other. It's a sweet premise, and Instant Family is actually based on a true story — or "inspired by a true family," as the trailer puts it.

The movie is based on director and co-writer Sean Anders' real story of adopting three children out of the foster care system with his wife, Beth. In the movie, Mark Wahlberg's character, Pete, jokes that he and his wife, Ellie (Rose Byrne), should adopt an older child, because it'll be like they had a kid sooner. This part was based specifically on a conversation Anders and Beth once had.

Before making the movie, Anders shared his experience in an essay for TIME. "My wife Beth and I had been talking for years about whether we should have kids," he wrote. "For the longest time we just felt like we couldn’t afford it. Then I sold a couple of scripts and was feeling like I might have a career, but we were in our 40s and worried we had left it too long. We knew kids would make our life bigger, so one day I joked, 'Why don’t we just adopt a five-year-old and it will be like we got started five years ago?'"

Beth "called [him] on it", and they decided to actually look into adoption. After learning about the entire process, they ended up fostering and then adopting three siblings in 2012. At the time the kids were six, three, and 18 months.

"The story is inspired by my own life and experience of adopting kids out of foster care, but I wanted to cover some ground that I didn’t cover in my own experience," Anders said in an AJC.com interview. This includes showing a teen being adopted, so he spoke with women who had been fostered and adopted as teenagers to get their perspectives. In particular, a woman named Maraide Green became a consultant on the movie, gave notes on the script, and was there for filming. "A good part of her story sort of winds up in the movie, as well," he told AJC.

While the film isn't exactly like their real lives, there are a number of anecdotes in the movie based on Anders and Beth's own experience. A serious one comes during a scene where Pete and Ellie are in bed and momentarily doubt their decision to take on three kids. "They start to have a discussion about, how can we get out of this? How can we find our way back to our nice, quiet, easy life we used to have?," Anders told AZ Central. "...Even though my wife and I never would have really considered that option, in your desperate moments, you think, 'We made a terrible mistake, what have we done to our lives?' I’m not proud of that. I’m not proud of some of the things I thought and some of the conversations we had, but I had to put it in there to be honest."

There are some sillier moments that come from the couple's real life too, including one of the kids getting hit in the face with a ball. Thankfully, in real life it was a soccer ball and not a basketball like in the movie. "That's the thing," Anders told Screen Rant, "is that you're there and you're just trying to play and be a good guy and meet the kids, and then, of course, I'm there for, like, 15 minutes and I've already hurt him! That was very real."

Anders hopes his comedy sheds light on the fostering process, since it's something not many people fully understand, and he told Screen Rant that he's already gotten positive reactions from social workers and adoptive families. Plus, his kids like the movie, too. "They sort of feel like, well we’re just this boring family, why would there be a movie about us?" he explained to AJC. "But then when they saw the movie I think they really understood, and it definitely took them back."

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