I had high expectations of “Instructions Not Included,” a film starring Eugenio Derbez, one of Mexico’s best comics and protégé of the legendary Cantinflas.
But the movie was about a man saddled with a baby, and there were already too many examples of this plot, (“Three Men and a Baby” comes to mind).
After reviews by both English and Spanish media outlets and a “delightful” review by my aunt, I fastened on the word and decided to witness it myself.
Valentin, played by Derbez, lives in Acapulco, Mexico, leading the life of a carefree bachelor. Responsibility is not a virtue he lives by. But then fate, in the form of a former lover, leaves a baby in his hands, turning his world upside down.
He attempts to find Julie, the mother of the child, in Los Angeles; and that’s when the fun begins.
As he arrives at a posh hotel, the doorman tells him Julie, the aerobic instructor there, was recently fired and left for New York.
After a period of introspection, it dawns on him that Julie is out of his life and he’s stuck with the child. This launches him to find a job as a stuntman to begin raising his little girl, Maggie.
Although Valentin does not speak English, Maggie serves as his interpreter and agent on every film set.
This introduces us to the ruthless Hollywood world where stuntmen are expendable bodies who are tossed aside as soon as more desperate souls are found. Valentin takes an awful pounding on this job, and smelling salts are often needed to revive him. But the undocumented worker is often reminded: where else can he make good money without a valid immigration status?
Valentin tries to make up for Maggie’s missing mom, who he believes will never return. This is why his apartment looks like an extension of Disneyland, and he devotes every spare moment to her.
One of the more endearing parts of the movie is when Maggie reads letters from her mother, and immediately, a Technicolor work of cartoon figures begin streaming on the screen. In this Sesame Street world of cartoons is where she thinks her heroine mom lives. The comic characters of Mr. Anders and the girl with clogged pipes further adorn Maggie’s world.
Julie’s return precipitates the custody battle. It’s a battle of who has more right over their daughter. When Valentin’s comic neighbors show up to testify, the results are hilarious. But the verdict is filed against him, and this leads him on a flight back to Mexico.
In Mexico, Maggie sees her parents reunite for the sad ending of this film. Julie goes back to her life in New York while Valentin is left to pick up the pieces alone.
This story is a bright, sweet tale of a man’s coming to self-realization by the power of love”” paternal love.
The story takes him and us through a series of events that transform and teach him lessons only life can teach. Yet, despite its sad ending, the movie is light and entertaining and full of comedic detail.
Derbez, who also directed the film, hits every note from beginning to end. Emotion and momentum is developed scene after scene, and before you know it, the film is over and you want more. It’s that kind of film.
“Instructions Not Included” is currently playing in selected theaters.
Greg Olmos is a Boyle Heights resident and retired teacher. He volunteers at San Antonio de Padua Church and Benjamin Franklin Library and writes as part of a library writing group.