RATING |

Art really imitates life for writer-director Sean Anders, who became a foster parent to three kids and made a movie of it.

Instant Family stars Mark Wahlberg and Rose Byrne, characters loosely modeled on Anders and his wife, Beth. Anders describes himself as a guy who was so busy working in Hollywood (Hot Tub Time Machine, the Daddy's Home movies) that he put off having kids until he felt like he was past his prime dad years.

"I feel like emotionally I was better off to avoid it. If I had kids when I was younger, I don't know — I was such a knucklehead," said Anders, who stopped in Philadelphia recently with his family to visit Smith Memorial Playground, the Liberty Bell, and to talk about his movie.

The origins of Instant Family go back to an offhand remark that Anders once made to Beth. He joked that since he'd waited five years too long to start a family, he should just find some kids who are 5 years old. That joke turned into something quite serious — a decision to become foster parents.

He found out just how serious a few months into the process, when he wondered if he was in over his head as a pop-up pop.

"We had a conversation very much like the one that [Wahlberg and Byrne] have in the movie. Like, we wondered if we'd made a terrible mistake, and we wanted to go back to the quiet, easy life we had before," he said.

Instant Family is a comedy, but the humor comes from the real fears and feelings that foster parents inevitably have when they find themselves overwhelmed, from time to time, by the rigors of parenting.

"You have these thoughts that you're not proud of, because you're human, and often that's where the comedy comes from," he said.

Foster parents are often required to do superhuman things, but they are not superheroes, so there was not huge momentum in Hollywood to make a foster-care film. Fate intervened when Anders' pal Wahlberg, star of the Daddy's Home movies, was doing some charity work and had a heart-melting encounter with a young man in the foster-care system who was awaiting placement. The young man told Wahlberg that he had one goal in life: to grow up to become the parent he never had.

"I sent him the script and he called me the next day and said, 'Yes, absolutely.' After that, getting the movie made was very easy," Anders said.

Anders said he also based the movie's family on other couples he met during his foster journey. Support group meetings, for instance, were a great resource for some of the scenes in Instant Family. His own children (now officially adopted) provided inspiration — as in the film, they are Latino — and Anders and his wife are now learning Spanish. A small obstacle, Anders said, for a system that has way more kids than potential parents.

"I think the message of the movie is: no matter what, love first," said Beth Anders. "They need parents, and we're here."