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Article by Teddy Durgin

Is the New Spanish-Language "Instructions Not Included" Padrisimo?

OK, so, how do you say "Sap" in Spanish? 'Cause that's what I was by the end of "Instructions Not Included," a film that starts off as a broad comedy about an Acapulco playboy forced to become Mr. Mom that turns into a shameless melodrama by the end that rather ruthlessly goes for the tear ducts. Oh, it is indeed shameless, I tell ya. So shameless that I wanted to yell "Aw, come on!" as the closing credits rolled... that is, if I weren't weeping openly along with the other hundred or so people seated around me. What's that? You've never heard of "Instructions Not Included?" Amazingly, neither had I a week ago. But when I went on the Box Office Mojo website to check the box-office totals, there it was vying for third and fourth place while playing on less than 800 screens. What was this little movie that could?! As it turns out, it's a Spanish-language movie that had been masterfully marketed to Hispanic audiences for weeks now. Sacre Bleu! Bonzai! Achtung geseundheit! OK, none of those are Spanish words. I'm obviously a buffoon. But I'm smart when it comes to flicks. So, is it any good? I would characterize it as neither "good" nor "bad." Rather, it is "effective." It indeed tells the story of Valentin (the engaging Eugenio Derbez), a Mexican beach-bum playboy who has to grow up suddenly when one of his former conquests shows up at his door; introduces him to his baby daughter, Maggie; asks for some cash to pay the cab driver; then makes a run for the border. Valentin takes Maggie to L.A. to try and find the mother and stumbles into work as a stuntman. Years pass and daddy and daughter become quite a pair. But inevitably the mother, Julie (Jessica Lindsey), shows up and wants to reclaim her daughter. For the first two-thirds of its running time, "Instructions Not Included" is played for laughs - think "Three Men and a Baby" and "The Game Plan" crossed with your pick of the bumbling-dads-changing-diapers sitcoms that have aired on TV over the years. But when Julie comes back into the picture - now a lawyer and in a committed relationship - the movie shifts gears into sappy melodrama before going for broke in its final moments with a twist that had the target audience I saw this with absolutely DISTRAUGHT! Don't worry. I won't give away the ending. And I won't give away how badly I shamed myself with the tears. I didn't understand anything anyone was saying around me in that theater the other night. But I did discover that the English-Spanish word for Kleenex is oddly enough... Kleenex! Gracias, señorita, for sharing. The thing I liked best about the film was the core daddy-daughter relationship. Yes, Valentin's Maggie reminded me very much of my Maddie. But it was more than that. As the father of a little girl who sees over 100 movies a year, I have become acutely aware of the lack of believable father-daughter relationships on the big screen that are shown with genuine warmth and honesty. Most Hollywood films about dads and daughters have the fathers seeing their girls in vaguely sexual terms, comically obsessing on what they're doing on their dates. "Instructions Not Included" tells a really beautiful father-daughter story. Unfortunately, the film has a few shortcomings that are tough to ignore. Chiefly, at nearly two hours, it's too long. There are odd little bits that should have been edited out that don't really belong in the film. The scenes on Hollywood sets play like bad parody, and there is an unfunny recurring gag involving Valentin's landlord who suffers from early dementia. "Instructions Not Included" is definitely not light on its feet. But I'd be lying if I didn't say it is highly effective in the end. I can see why it is getting such a following. So, bravo! Wunderbahr! Tres Magnifique! Oh, alright. Padrisimo!

"Instructions Not Included" is rated PG-13 for sexual content, thematic elements and language.

 

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