Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Instructions Not Included

Instructions Not Included - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

One could argue that Instructions Not Included was the biggest surprise hit of the year. In a year in which Iron Man 3 earned $1.2 million billion worldwide, doubling the franchise average, a small movie from Mexico is still arguably the biggest surprise hit of the year. While Iron Man 3 was the follow-up to one of the biggest hits of all time, Instructions Not Included came out of nowhere to become the biggest Spanish-language hit of all time. Is it as good as its box office numbers would indicate? Or it is more right place, right time?

The Movie

The film begins with a young Valentín spending time with his father. His father wants his son to grow up fearless and to do that forces his son to confront his fears. This doesn't work, as it just makes young Valentín hate his father and fear many things, especially commitment. We see this in effect years later, as he flees whenever a woman he's dating gets too serious, and from the number of women he dates, that must happen a lot.

His freewheeling days end when an old girlfriend, Julie, whom he can't even remember, returns, with a baby girl, Maggie. Valentín doesn't figure out the girl is his, not until after Julie tells him. Needless to say, he doesn't take the news very well. Julie then borrows $10 from Valentín, to pay for the cab she took, and then leaves. It takes a while for Valentín to catch on. (The two women he was with figure it out right away.) It fact, he doesn't fully comprehend what happened until Julie calls him to say sorry and ask him to take good care of Maggie. Valentín hears an announcement for a boarding call to Los Angeles and races off to the airport on his Vespa, with Maggie on his lap. Clearly he is not father material. He gets there just in time to see Julie board the plane. Julie also sees them, but she decides to leave anyway.

After that, Valentín gets some help from his friends: Sammy and Judeisi. Judeisi changes little Maggie and the three of them look for information from Julie to learn where she is. Los Angeles. Valentín and Maggie head out to Los Angeles to find her.

It's a long trip, especially since Valentín is too broke, and too scared to fly. When they get to the right place, they find out Julie has moved. The doorman is willing to see if they have a forwarding address / phone number for Julie, but Valentín and Maggie will have to wait outside, because there are no children allowed. Instead of waiting outside, Valentín sneaks Maggie into the hotel hides her in a basket and begins to ask around. (This doesn't get him too far, because he doesn't speak English.) One of the maids, an Hispanic woman, tells him why Julie was fired, but he can't understand her, because she doesn't speak Spanish. All he gets is Presidential Suite. He doesn't find Julie in the Presidential Suite, but instead finds a movie producer complaining on the phone about the lack of real stuntmen in Hollywood. (They've all been replaced by CG.) While trying to get some information from the man, Valentín sees Maggie walking towards the pool. Knowing that there's no way to get down there fast enough, he's left with only one option, to jump. Not only does he rescue his daughter, but he impresses the movie producer so much that he is hired on the spot as a stuntman.

One montage and seven years later, Valentín is a respected stuntman and Maggie is his translator / personal motivator. They make the perfect family, for the most part. The problems do enter into spoiler territory, although one of them is minor. Valentín kind of spoils Maggie and one of the ways he does that is to fake letters from her mom telling her all sorts of fanciful tales. While Valentín has the best of intentions, this does have some negative consequences, which I can't get into to avoid serious spoilers. There are also some more serious spoilers that I can't get into, so it's a good time to end the plot summary.

So did Instructions Not Included deserve its success? Well, on the one hand, there is almost nothing in the script for this movie that is truly original or special. It is a very typical story of a man who is forced to grow up, because he has to take care of a child. There are many comedies in this genre. In fact, I've reviewed a few of them (Daltry Calhoun, The Game Plan, and Old Dogs). Since it doesn't do a lot new with a crowded genre, one might think it is a bad movie. On the other, while there's not much new, the execution is strong enough that it is forgivable. Eugenio Derbez and Loreto Peralta have really good chemistry together and their father-daughter relationship buoys what could have been a slight and insignificant film.

There are some spoilerific parts of the movie that I don't even want to hint at, but definitely elevate the movie from broad comedy to something with more depth. Or, if you didn't like the movie, you might call the final act of the movie emotionally manipulative. I would disagree with that assessment, but I certainly would see where it is coming from. Perhaps a lighter ending would have been more inline with the tone that the rest of the film had, but that might have resulted in a film with no emotional heart. It's hard to say.

The Extras

The only extra on the DVD or the Blu-ray is an audio commentary track with the director / star Eugenio Derbez. Since he is bi-lingual, he speaks in both Spanish and English, so I would suggest turning on the subtitles for when he goes back and forth.

I don't have the Blu-ray to compare, but at the moment it costs $8 more, which is a 62% premium. Given the lack of exclusive extras and the genre, it doesn't need to be seen on high definition, so the DVD is the better deal.

The Verdict

Instructions Not Included might not be the most original movie you will see, but the chemistry between the two leads gives the movie enough heart that it is worth checking out none the less. There are not a lot of extras on the DVD or the Blu-ray, but I think it is still worth picking up over just renting. I would stick with the DVD, unless the price of the Blu-ray drops between now and Tuesday when it comes out.


- Submitted by: C.S.Strowbridge


Date posted: 2014-01-18