Instructions Not Included: Maturity, Adulthood, and Parenthood
By Priscilla Lynn Gonzalez
If you’re lucky enough, someone will unexpectedly enter your life, flip your world upside down, and help you realize just how selfish and cowardly you’ve been living. Maturity, adulthood, and parenthood don’t just kick in at a specific age and they definitely don’t come with instructions.
Actor, writer, and director Eugenio Derbez puts all three of his talents to use in the Spanish-English dramedy, Instructions Not Included. We first meet the character Valentín Bravo in Acapulco, Mexico as a young boy running from coyotes and jumping off cliffs. Years later, traumatized by his father’s extreme attempts to help him face his fears, we find and adult Valentín (played by Derbez) living a playboy lifestyle. That is, until the day a former one night stand, Julie (played by Jessica Lindsey), shows up at his front door surprising him with Maggie, a daughter he knew nothing about (later played by Loreto Peralta). Leaving him with the sole responsibility of raising an infant, Julie returns to Los Angeles. Unwilling to change his lifestyle, let alone raise a child, Valentín hitchhikes to Los Angeles to find Julie and leave Maggie with her. Instead he finds himself falling in love with his daughter.
Being a huge fan of Eugenio Derbez, I jumped at the chance of reviewing this film and had high expectations for it. Were all of my expectations met? No. But I believe this film did an amazing job at its two motives: capturing the audience’s hearts and reaching out to a demographic that isn’t white collar America.
Cutting it close to two hours, the film could have had a stronger impact if certain recurring scenes were completely omitted. Some scenes were altogether too cartoonish as though Derbez was trying to appeal to a younger audience as well. Secondly, the film did not always transition smoothly between comedy and drama. Understandably, this task is not easy when the protagonist is an immigrant stuntman who must find balance in his life living in a foreign country, fighting a custody battle, and raising a child.
Instructions Not Included is definitely not the lighthearted film it appears to be on the billboards but despite its shortcomings, it is definitely one of best movies I’ve seen premiere this year. The cast is charming and entertaining. The very real emotions Derbez and Peralta give create an irresistible chemistry, which makes viewing this film for a second time still captivating.
Upon first glance, Instructions Not Included seems to take on a bilingual twist to other predictable “promiscuous bachelor turns daddy of the year” films like Big Daddy and The Game Plan, but it’s the film’s dark surprises that set it apart from the pack. Instructions Not Included addresses universal themes of overcoming fears, parenthood, adulthood, love, and death in a story that revolves around an immigrant father doing his very best to provide for his daughter. Many critics tore this film apart claiming it shamelessly slurred the audience’s emotions and did anything for laughs and tears with its slapstick comedy and tragedy. I’d hate to hear these critics’ reviews of telenovelas and La India Maria’s films, two classics that lie at the foundation of Hispanic popular culture.
The film is not about a father-daughter relationship. It’s about a young boy who ran from life, disowned his father, and grew up to face every one of his fears on Earth to do right by his daughter. Life has numerous ups and downs, laughs and tears and this film portrayed each of them. All in all, Instructions Not Included proudly earned an “A-” in my book.