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Overall Rating

Awesome: 36.36%
Worth A Look54.55%
Average: 9.09%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 0%

1 review, 5 user ratings

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Instructions Not Included
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by Jay Seaver

"Delivers what it promises, if from an unexpected place."
4 stars

"Instructions Not Included" has proven surprisingly successful at the American box office over the past few weekends, and it's not hard to see why: It's got an appealing cast, it's unpretentiously funny, and it makes a naked but earnest grab for the heart. I don't know whether the number of tickets it's selling while the bulk of this is done in Spanish shows that there's an untapped market or whether its appeal is broad enough to cross over; probably a little of both.

It starts with Valentin Bravo (Eugenio Derbez), whose father's attempts to raise him to be fearless left him scared of everything. He grew up to be popular with the ladies in Acapulco - locals and tourists alike - until one day American hippie Julie (Jessica Lindsey) shows back up to leave ten-month-old Maggie with him. He makes his way to Los Angeles to try and return the girl to her mother... And six years later, he's still there working as stuntman with his bright, effortlessly bilingual daughter (Loreto Peralta) also his translator and best friend. He spoils her rotten and forges letters detailing her mother's improbable adventures, which could get kind of sticky should the real thing return.

The engine that drives much of Instructions Not Included is not terribly difficult to figure out; it's quite up front about how being a parent is often a case of being in a constant state of fear but being willing to do anything despite that. Sometimes the metaphor is a little too on-the-nose, as Valentin sees wolves everywhere, but it comes wrapped in enough bright colors, large-scale slapstick, and cheerful exaggeration that it goes down smoothly.

Plus, the pairing of Eugenio Derbez and Loreto Peralta is pretty delightful to watch, in large part because writers Guillermo Rios and Leticia Lopez Margali don't go the "immature father/precocious child" route. Derbez establishes Valentin as a central-casting playboy and retains that sort of irascible lightness throughout, but he never pushes things so far as to seem craven or horrifically irresponsible. Maggie, meanwhile, comes off as an indulged but regular kid, enough that it initially looks like the filmmakers just found a seven-year-old who could speak English and Spanish well enough, but Peralta's quite genuine and plays off both Derbez and Jessica Lindsey quite well even when the scene requires something specific. The rest of the cast isn't quite up to the standard they set - Lindsey communicates okay as Julie, but doesn't give her a lot of personality when she shows up in the second half, while Daniel Raymont does the job as Valentin's first and best American friend, but often seems to be there more to serve a purpose than because Frank's an entertaining character himself.

Derbez also directed and contributed to the screenplay, and though this is his first feature behind the camera, he has a good idea of what works, especially in a comedy like this: He goes big with his jokes, but consistently so, and as a result the overdone bits like the crazy apartment Valentin & Maggie live in work, and even some of the shakier acting fits. He's not afraid of slapstick but knows when to pull back to keep the movie from being a complete clown show, and the animated bits that represent Maggie's imagination are cute without being overdone. Things could use a bit of pruning and streamlining - I think this is the most times I've ever seen "___ weeks/months/years later" used in a movie that was not doing it ironically, for instance.

Things do get more than a bit melodramatic toward the end. My eyes rolled when things took a turn in one direction - with Valentin's immigration status apparently handled off-screen, I had thought they'd avoided it being the sort of movie where everyone argues their case, but it gets there via another route - complete with soapy overwrought music. And while it initially feels like Derbez and company are drawing things out unnecessarily, they make up for a lot with an ending that ties things together much better than most will have reason to expect.

The very last scene before the credits is overdoing it to a crazy extent, but it's also exactly the sort of thing that folks who want to feel their movie and feel them strongly expect (and the critics who don't like it can go whine to each other about manipulation). It's why this Mexican film is doing surprisingly well in American multiplexes even if it's not as nuanced or sophisticated as the ones which make it into the boutique theaters.

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originally posted: 09/18/13 13:23:14
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User Comments

10/11/13 Man Out Six Bucks Has plot holes as a drama but works well as a comedy. Daughter is a gem 5 stars
10/05/13 KARAIZA loved the movie! although the lesbian couple expected and unnecessary 3 stars
9/26/13 Juan Leopoldo ayer la vi con mi familia, reimos y lloramos, nos quedamos platicando de la pelicula por ho 5 stars
9/26/13 Pedro salas Awesome, excelent performances, nice story. An oscar candidate 5 stars
9/21/13 teresa exelent 5 stars
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  30-Aug-2013 (PG-13)
  DVD: 21-Jan-2014


  DVD: 21-Jan-2014

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