MRR Review: "Instructions Not Included"

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A man who has made a new life for himself and the daughter left on his doorstep 6 years ago finds his family threatened when the birth mother resurfaces.
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MRR Review: "Instructions Not Included"

Rating: PG-13 (sexual content, thematic elements, and language)
Length: 115 min
Release Date: Aug. 30, 2013
Directed by: Eugenio Derbez
Genre: Comedy/Drama

"Instructions Not Included" is a 2013 family comedy that focuses on the life of Valentin, a young bachelor who has his pick of the women on the Acapulco social scene. One day, one of the many short-term affairs from Valentin's past abandons a baby girl on his doorstep and vanishes, not to be heard from again for the next six years. Valentin finds himself charged with the overwhelming responsibility of raising Maggie, his infant daughter. Valentin decides to pursue a better life for his daughter and moves to Los Angeles, finding a family-friendly home and a new career as a Hollywood stuntman. Maggie accompanies him to work and quickly adapts to American life, helping her hapless father in his journey to become a better man.

When Maggie and Valentin have finally fallen into a happy routine, all is thrown into chaos when Maggie's mother comes to visit. Valentin hasn't seen her since she abandoned Maggie six years ago, and he's understandably threatened by her sudden appearance. Maggie, overjoyed to see her mother, instantly accepts her into their lives and longs for her to stay and be part of the family. Time will tell whether Maggie and Valentin can make room for another member of the family or whether the appearance of Maggie's birth mother will undermine everything the small family has worked so hard to achieve.

Eugenio Derbez both directs and stars in this film as the leading character, Valentin. Derbez gives a masterful performance as a well-intentioned but utterly lost playboy-turned-father. "Instructions Not Included" is the perfect title for a film that revolves around a young first-time father's many mistakes and attempts not to ruin the small person he finds himself responsible for. Without any support system, Valentin is forced to learn the basics of parenting all on his own, which makes the process of watching Maggie grow into a bright and vibrant little girl all the more rewarding for him. The film is a perfect blend of comedy and drama, featuring plenty of heartwarming father-daughter moments between Valentin and Maggie as well as hilarious antics caused by Valentin's parenting trials and errors.

Another charming aspect of the film is Maggie acts as Valentin's stunt coach in his Hollywood career. Valentin quickly becomes one of the most well-known stuntmen in the business, thanks to his bravery and determination to provide a better life for his daughter. When Julie, Maggie's biological mother, finally shows up and wants to become a part of her daughter's life, the film shifts gears from a heartwarming comedy to a family drama. Valentin has been doing everything on his own, so Julie's sudden appearance rocks his world. He realizes he can't deny his daughter the opportunity to know her birth mother, so he decides to be civil to Julie, meanwhile holding his doubts inside.

While Eugenio Derbez and Jessica Lindsey are brilliant at showcasing the dramatic tension between Valentin and Julie, Loreto Peralta steals the show in her role as Maggie. Peralta is a young actress with a huge personality who easily fills the shoes of this bubbly and charming character. Maggie is wise beyond her years and serves as a much-needed guide for her father. At times, Maggie provides Valentin with more parenting advice and instruction than his adult peers. The film may revolve around Valentin's struggles to become a good father, but Maggie is truly the star of the movie. Confronted with the appearance of her birth mother, Maggie is forced to reconcile her childish fantasies of what it would be like to have a mother with the reality of who Julie really is.

"Instructions Not Included" is a charming family film that expertly balances laugh-out-loud comedy with heartwarming moments. Maggie and Valentin are a brilliant on-screen pair with great comedic chemistry, carrying the film through its zany plot points. In addition to great performances from its leading actors, the film's many supporting characters do a great job of moving things along. The soundtrack is upbeat and vibrant, perfectly highlighting the lighthearted humor of the film without detracting from the story. Eugenio Derbez manages to balance his duties as director and leading man flawlessly, creating a film that's truly enjoyable to watch the whole way through. The characters are relatable, flawed, and lovable, and the story is fast-paced enough to keep viewers on their toes. "Instructions Not Included" contains all the necessary ingredients for a family comedy classic with just enough quirky charm and unique story elements to set it apart from other films in the genre.

Rating: 3 out of 5