Went a bit too fast in the middle stages of Valentin (director/writer/star Eugenio Derbez) becoming a father to Maggie (Loreto Peralta), after he has gotten her to the USA, but that was for good reason. The real story was when Maggie was a 7-year-old girl and her mom, Julie (Jessica Lindsay) finally returned. That said, a couple of actual scenes (instead of just a montage) with Valentin finding his groove as the parent of a toddler might have done the film good.
Probably a bigger flaw is that director/writer Derbez and co-writers Guillermo Rios and Leticia Lopez spend a bit too much energy trying to create “mystery” about a “twist” at the end. Insofar as the “mystery” was obvious from the beginning and became even more obvious in the first truncated adult conversation between Valentin and Julie, the writers would have been better served just showing “the secret” from the beginning. They were only hiding an obvious story “twist” behind their back, not creating any real sense of intrigue. Had they let out the “secret” earlier, they might have had greater opportunity to go deeper into emotion, since Valentin’s motivations could have been more deeply explored.
Derbez is terrific as the lead. Award good? No. But terrific nonetheless, carrying an air of child-like happiness and constant adult fear with relative ease. He is a touch less convincing as a womanizer than as a father, but he’s good all around.
Lindsay is also very good as the derelict mother who wants to make up for past mistakes. Her pain is palpable, and both heart-wrenching and maddening, in both legs of her character’s maturation, when she is dumping off her baby at a ne’er-do-well father’s house, and again when she finally comes to meet her child.
Some of the supporting players go over the top and distract (starting with Daniel Raymont as Valentin’s boss and confidante, Frank).
Loreto Peralta is sometimes amazing, especially when speaking Spanish, as Maggie.
The conclusion probably wrapped up a bit too fast, but it still packed a hefty emotional punch.
As importantly as anything else I have said, some of this film’s moments were laugh-out-loud-funny. While it wasn’t as good as Family Weekend (another drama-comedy that packed more emotion and just as much humor) or even The Heat (a comedy-drama that was considerably more funny and not quite as moving), Instructions not Included was nonetheless a very good film.