Judge Gordon Sullivan is still trying to figure out Rubik's Cube.
Life doesn't care if you're ready.
There are many scary aspects to parenthood. Obviously there's the slowly suffocating sense of responsibility, the total dependence of another person, and all the financial horrors that drain the bank account. All of that frightens me when I contemplate having a child, but the thing that always fills me with the most dread is that no one, no matter how many credentials they possess, knows how to raise a kid correctly. We definitely know how to screw it up (withhold affection, be abusive, etc.), but of those kids who are considered "well-adjusted," there's no agreement how they got there, from questions about breastfeeding to whether a glass of wine is appropriate with dinner for a sixteen-year-old. You can tell this worries people, because we love to watch films where unlikely people become parents, and there must be something comforting about thinking "If that schmuck can do it, so can I." That seems to be the only case to be made for Instructions Not Included, a Mexican take on the inappropriate father genre. Only those looking for the most saccharine of narratives need seek this one out.
Valentin (Eugenio Derbez, who also co-wrote and directed) is a playboy who beds scores of women without any apparent attachment. Until, of course, one of his previous paramours drops by with their daughter, putting her in Valentin's hands. He doesn't know how to be a parent, but he learns how to be an adult from his daughter, Maggie (Loreta Peralta, making her debut).
The inappropriate parent genre is a pretty popular one. When it succeeds, it usually does so by being funny before tugging the heartstrings. Knocked Up is a great example, even if the kid is hypothetical for most of the film: there are a ton of jokes throughout the narrative, and only at the end do we really get a dramatic, life-changing kind of lesson. Other, similar films find moms and dads eventually learning about the value of not being at work every second of the day once the kitchen has blown up a couple of times or a few dirty diapers have been changed. The point is that the key to success is balancing the jokes with the "aww" feel-good lesson. Instructions Not Included falls way, way on the side of "aww" instead of jokes.
That wouldn't be a huge problem, but the "aww" moments are between two characters that are difficult to like. I never thought I'd miss Roberto Benigni, but Derbez feels like an even more disheveled imitation. It's difficult to believe he could make it as a playboy, as he seems more pathetic than charming. When the "aww" moments come, it's hard to overlook his schmucky-ness to be moved by the sentiment. I'm sure Peralta will grow up to be a fine actress, but there's nothing particularly likeable about her character here to make us want to see her grow closer to her dubiously useful father. She's doing a riff on the precious kid routine, but it doesn't feel particularly memorable or believable.
At least Instructions Not Included (Blu-ray) is decent. The 1.78:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfer is generally bright and clean. Detail is pretty strong throughout, with lots of good textures. Colors are well-saturated, and black levels stay consistent and deep. The visuals aren't the main draw for this feature, so the transfer basically just supports the image in telling the story of Valentin and his daughter. The DTS-HD 5.1 track is similarly fine. Dialogue is clean and clear from the front, while the surrounds get a bit of use in establishing atmosphere. Everything is balanced appropriately, and the English subtitles are clear and easy to read.
The film's main extra is a commentary by Derbez, who wrote and directed in addition to starring. His commentary is interesting because he offers his comments in English and Spanish. This might make it a bit frustrating for some listeners, but he has some fun stories to share about the production. If you enjoyed the film, it's worth a listen. There's also an Ultraviolet Digital Copy.
I can see some audiences enjoying Instructions Not Included. If you've already got the hankies out to enjoy a sentimental movie that will unapologetically pull on your heartstrings, this might be your kind of film. I generally prefer a bit more subtlety in these situations, but for those who just want a parent-child dramedy, it delivers.
Instructions Not Included has a very narrow demographic—those willing to watch a Spanish film that's heavy on the parent/child sentiment. For those viewers, this will satisfy for at least a rental. For everyone else, you'll find an unlikeable protagonist, his unlikable kid, and a lot of blatant audience manipulation.
Guilty of being too sentimental.
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