Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Instructions Not Included

I don't pay a whole lot of attention to box office numbers, although I did see someone tweet that this had done well over Labor Day weekend with a bit of surprise. They'd never heard of the thing, and I admit I only had because I try to find out everything playing the area each week. I'd sort of marked it down as a curiosity to potentially check out, and wound up surprised that I wouldn't have to do so right away - it did well enough at Boston Common to get another screen at Fenway, and then hung around for a third week. That got me even more curious than usual.

I was all set to write it up as an interesting box office anomaly to be delighted in but which I wouldn't expect to repeat, at least until I saw the distributors' logos come up and reveal that the distributor, "Pantelion", seemed to be a partnership involving Lionsgate, which also had their own logo displayed. Lionsgate isn't a Big Five studio, but it's probably just under the line, so getting this into a bunch of theaters probably wasn't the huge risk that it would be for Cohen or A24 or the like. Still, just seeing that the company had developed a label to produce and distribute Latino-centric films made me happy. Though they didn't have their main logo quite so prominently on Things Never Said, that was also distributed by a Lionsgate label.

It kind of solidifies their position as being the successor to New Line, doesn't it? While New Line was known as The House That Freddy Kreuger Built for good reason, they also built themselves into a solidly profitable business by making or acquiring tightly-budgeted pictures aimed at underserved/minority audiences, and while that's something they sort of abandoned as Ted Turner and later Warner Brothers purchased them, it's gratifying to see that Lionsgate seems to be doing even more of this sort of thing even as they produce big Hunger Games-type movies. The multiplex can be a very bland, white place, and it's good to see folks making a profit by making it less so.

Of course, I wouldn't exactly be shocked if they also do an American remake; I can imagine Adam Sandler (who has worked with writer/director/star Eugenio Derbez before) sniffing around this very easily. It would almost certainly have a different ending, which may not be entirely a bad thing; I certainly wanted to punch writers in the nose at the end, but in the best possible way.

And if this hypothetical remake does track the original closely, then I suppose at some point it will be another experience like watching the trailer for The Delivery Man, which is eerily close to Starbuck. To be expected, as the same writer/director is doing it, but watching the preview for that before this movie was downright strange. It's not like seeing a preview for something I've already seen, but similar enough for a sort of dissonance while watching it, like I have seen it and I haven't.

No se Aceptan Devoluciones (Instructions Not Included)

* * * (out of four)
Seen 16 September 2013 in AMC Boston Common #10 (first-run, DCP)

Instructions Not Included has proven surprisingly successful at the American box office over the past few weekends, and it's not hard to see why: It's got an appealing cast, it's unpretentiously funny, and it makes a naked but earnest grab for the heart. I don't know whether the number of tickets it's selling while the bulk of this is done in Spanish shows that there's an untapped market or whether its appeal is broad enough to cross over; probably a little of both.

It starts with Valentin Bravo (Eugenio Derbez), whose father's attempts to raise him to be fearless left him scared of everything. He grew up to be popular with the ladies in Acapulco - locals and tourists alike - until one day American hippie Julie (Jessica Lindsey) shows back up to leave ten-month-old Maggie with him. He makes his way to Los Angeles to find try and return the girl to her mother... And six years later, he's still there working as stuntman with his bright, effortlessly bilingual daughter (Loreto Peralta) also his translator and best friend. He spoils her rotten and forges letters detailing her mother's improbable adventures, which could get kind of sticky should the real thing return.

The engine that drives much of Instructions Not Included is not terribly difficult to figure out; it's quite up front about how being a parent is often a case of being in a constant state of fear but being willing to do anything despite that. Sometimes the metaphor is a little too on-the-nose, as Valentin sees wolves everywhere, but it comes wrapped in enough bright colors, large-scale slapstick, and cheerful exaggeration that it goes down smoothly.

Full review at EFC.

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