Things that matter are hard: a review of “Instant Family“

There is a moment about a third of the way into the new film Instant Family that felt as though someone had recorded my conversation in private and played it out to a cinema full of people. It was funny, awful, upsetting but utterly real all at the same time and it is for this reason that I hope the film is seen by as many people as possible

In the scene the central couple, Pete and Ellie  who have recently fostered 3 children lie on the bed together exhausted, bruised and really considering if they have the resilience to carry on as a family. Many films at this stage would have sugar coated the realities of adoption and at this point in the film cut to the parents being told how loved they were or receiving a gift from a suddenly grateful child. This doesn’t happen in Instant family; the couple do indeed decide to persevere but as they lie down again together in the dark and hold hands it is a hard battle they still find themselves in the middle of.

The film is not perfect, and many people may well point to the differences in the UK and American systems as well as a few moments of glossing over certain issues, but it is far more real and realistic than I went in prepared for and it is ultimately a really important film I would urge people to see.

I really valued the films theme of the ordinariness of the parents too. Adoption is often subject to so many myths and fantasies and one such one is that all adoptive parents are somehow superhuman or special. I promise you that in my brokenness I am not either of those things just determined to give a child a second chance in life and all too painfully aware that things that matter usually are hard.

The highs and lows of adoptive family life are in the main very honestly captured, it was brave for example to see the film depict the realities of some of the violence, physical and verbal that often comes with the territory rather than to shy away from this and return to the “Love conquers all” fantasy.

Talking to other adopters after the film we agreed that all too often the discussions around adoption tend to either be ridiculously positive or dreadfully negative when our lives are often an exhausting mixture of both. The film showed some wonderful moments of breakthrough in the emotional journey of the children, but it also showed the reality that this journey isn’t simplistic and linear but winding  fluctuating and exhausting.

I managed to hold it together for most of the film but the scene that most touched me (and left me looking more panda than parent) was the final courtroom scene.

As was the same for us , the judge after the adoption order is granted asks the family to come and take photos with him to mark this special day. At first the people to go up are the parents and three newly adopted children but soon they are followed by grandparents, friends, and then finally everyone in the room in one big noisy and imperfect group photo.

One of the biggest themes in the film, but also one of the biggest learning for us personally as a family has been contained in this final image. Adoption needs a bigger vision of family and a bigger vison of support. we are not meant to do this alone and our ability to stretch the walls of “family” in our minds and lives is both a painful and necessary realisation

Instant Family then means so much more than just a nuclear family and a simplistic solution. It is messy, difficult, painful, wonderful and so very needed. In short, the things that matter are indeed often the hardest.