[Original title: No se aceptan devoluciones]
Instructions Not Included is a Mexican box office hit that also did very well in the US. The film is directed by Eugenio Derbez, who also co-wrote the script and stars as the male lead, Valentín.
Valentín is a young Mexican man who never really grew up – which may have been a reaction to his father’s unorthodox ideas regarding education. Valentín lives a life free of care and responsibilities, with bedding tourists being his favourite past-time. His circumstances change drastically when one of these women shows up more than a year later and dumps a baby at his doorstep. His attempts to find the child’s mother fail, and through these events he gets stuck in L. A. and – speaking no English – earns a living as a stuntman.
Instructions Not Included is a very strange film. It seems that the film does not know what it wants to be. In some ways it is a coming-of-age story, as Valentín develops into a loving and caring father. A lot of the story circles around Valentín’s attempts to make up for the lack of a mother and to shelter his daughter (and himself) from some harsh realities. But while this film starts out as a comedy it shifts into melodrama by half-time.
There are a number of things in this film that show thorough workmanship: the opening credits are nice, and the title theme music is fitting; there are at least two lengthy montages in the film that are well-placed and well-executed; and the scenes involving Valentín’s Hollywood job are well-done, including a fake Johnny Depp and a fake Mickey Rourke. A nice touch are also the fantastical stories Valentín tells his daughter about her mother.
The acting is mostly good, but nothing to shout about. Derbez’s Valentín is good in the dramatic scenes but far less convincing in the comedic first act. Loreto Peralta does a very good job for a child her age, and the film benefits from the great chemistry between her and Derbez. The third main role in this film is played by Rosamund-Pike-lookalike Jessica Lindsey. There are few missteps in the acting; but the character played by Sammy Pérez is simply annoying. That none of the actors aside from the leads is able to bring more than a simply good performance here stems from the fact that most are not given enough to do, while others are held back by the inconsistent way in which their characters are written.
Which brings me to the writing and the film’s many problems. Firstly, the film suffers from an entirely unconvincing and inexplicable character development in one of the leading characters. Then there is the uneven tone and the aforementioned impression that the film does not know what it wants to be – comedy, or melodrama – or which story it wants to tell. The erratic decisions that mar this film are exemplified by the fact that someone decided this film should have a post-credit scene – and the film’s ending does definitely not sustain a post-credit scene – and that this post-credit scene should be an unfunny monologue by Peréz’s annoying character.
The uneven tone aside, the script would also have benefited from some more tightening – a lot of things from the opening 20 minutes could have been dealt with in a montage, seeing as the filmmakers are quite capable of doing a montage in a decent manner.
Overall, Instructions Not Included is a film that is more ordinary and banal than it thinks it is, and in this way it reminds me a lot of Buen día, Ramón, even though the latter had far lower production values. There is also a similarity in the soundtrack, as it becomes at times overbearing, soppy, and manipulative.
I am struggling to understand how this film, which last year spawned both a French and a Turkish remake, could have achieved such a huge success at the Mexican and US box office. Personally, I cannot rate this film any higher than 5.5 or 6.0 out of 10.