Review – Subtlety Not Included (“Instructions Not Included”)

Sneaking in under the radar, this wonderful import from Spain is a heartbreaking comedy/drama that is two parts Charlie Chaplin’s “The Kid” and one part “Kramer vs Kramer”, with just a sprinkling of “The Professional”.

In Spanish (with subtitles) and occasional English, the easy going plot follows an Acapulco playboy named Valentin Bravo (Eugenio Derbez–who also directed and co-wrote) who, amidst his bevy of beauties he beds, sired a baby with Julie (Jessica Lindsey), a bi-lingual American. One day out of the blue, Julie returns and drops off a baby at his door and returns to L.A., leaving Valentin to panic and pursue her. He follows her (with baby Maggie in tow) to L.A., but she’s gone to who knows where. Through a series of misadventures, Valentin gets mistaken for a Hollywood stuntman after he leaps from a 13-story balcony to rescue Maggie from a pool drowning. This excites L.A. Film Works director Frank Ryan (Daniel Raymont) who (also bi-lingual) tells Valentin he’ll help him & Maggie get Visa’s in the U.S. in exchange for his continued stunt work.

A few montages and seven years later, Maggie (the adorable Loreto Peralta) all blonde-haired & blue-eyed, is her father’s translator on set, since Valentin never learns English. His stunt work has secured them a comfortable living and they love each other dearly, even though Valentin must lie to her about her mother in faked letters. This present problem’s in school since Maggie thinks (through the fantasy letters she’s read) that her mom is a world famous traveler that helps the planet…with Batman!

During a doctor’s check-up, Valentin is told about a fatal prognosis, but he can’t worry about that right now because…Julie just called him after seven years and wants to see her daughter. Maggie is excited to finally see her mom, but is confused when she shows up with her ‘life partner’, Jackie (Karla Souza). Okay….so, mom’s a ????

Anyway, the two hit it off big-time, but mommy drops a bombshell that’s she’s really a lawyer in NYC, not a world traveler that knows Batman. Maggie is heartbroken over daddy’s lies, but the worst is yet to come: the inevitable court room custody battle over who should be the legal guardian. The court rules that Valentin….well, I won’t give it away, but the ending(s) are a double McGuffin with a surprise twist ending that I didn’t see coming. Bring tissues.

Both heartbreaking and laugh-out-loud, Derbez is like the Spanish Jim Carrey with his muti-expressive face that doesn’t overflow into Jerry Lewis territory. And little Peralta, in her first screen role, is an absolute gem. No “Hollywood kid” acting here; she’s so natural on screen, it’s scary how good she is. Her chemistry with Derbez is undeniable and loving. And get this, she’s the grand-daughter of Mexican billionaire Carlos Peralta, a real estate mogul and Mexican baseball team owner. Yeah. Impressive.

There’s also some delicious little Hollywood throw away scenes by director Derbez that are pure fun: Danny Lopez in some very funny cameos as Johnny Depp (or at least a Johnny Depp look alike) and an actor who thinks he’s auditioning for Alfonso Cuaron’s movie “Gravity”.

The only hiccup I can find is SO many people in the movie suddenly speak fluent Spanish at the most opportune times. Coincidence or just at the right place at the right time for the sake of the script? There are also some strange jumps in character for plot development that don’t quite work here and there, but the overall scope of the movie is a heartwarming, funny, and tear-jerking story of a man and his daughter and the lengths he’ll go to keep her safe and happy.

Oh, and don’t say I didn’t warn you about the ending!

A Simple Twist Of Fate (1994)

In a rare departure for comedian Steve Martin, this dramedy screenplay was adapted by Martin from the 1861 novel “Silas Marner” by George Eliot. Not only does it show off Martin’s screenwriting skills, but he toned-down his “wild ‘n’ crazy” guy antics on the screen as he portrayed a broken man whose life is given a second chance.

Ex-high school teacher Michael McCann (Martin) has had a lousy life: he divorces his wife who gets pregnant by another man, he quits his job and retreats into a life of solitude and makes finely crafted furniture in rural Virginia. Essentially a recluse, he invests all his money into rare gold coins for his retirement. But, five years later, Tanny Newland (Stephen Baldwin), steals Michael’s coins while he’s sleeping, takes off into the night, and is never seen again.

Weeks later, Michael discovers a toddler has wandered into his home while he was outside gathering wood. A short distance away he discovers the deceased body of her mother. Michael is permitted to adopt the child and christens her Mathilda. She proves to be a bit of a handful in her early years, but with the help of friend, April Simon (Catherine O’Hara), Michael manages to raise her to be a bright, personable, precocious young lady, causing Michael to be transformed from the lonely introvert to a happy man by her presence.

Unbeknownst to him, however, Mathilda (Alana Austin) is actually the illegitimate daughter of John Newland (Gabriel Bryne) who realizes that Mathilda is HIS daughter and begins to invite her to join him and wife, Nancy (Laura Linney) to their home. John lavishes gifts upon her & treats her like one of her own, much to the consternation of Michael. Soon, of course, all is revealed and a court battle ensues over Mathilda’s legal guardianship. I won’t give away the obvious ending, but I’ll will say those stolen gold coins back in Act One come back into play.

A wonderfully touching and sometimes amusing film that nobody thought Martin could pull off, much like when Jim Carrey did “The Truman Show” without his trademark lunacy act. Added to the fact that Martin wrote the screenplay is the just the icing on the cake. Sure the plot is predictable and contrived, but watching Martin and the rest of this fine cast in this heart-breaking Hallmark-ish film is worth your Netflix/Blockbuster.com rental.

The Kid (1921)

Legendary film icon Charlie Chaplin gambled big-time with this movie back in 1921 and won humongous accolades. This was Chaplin’s first full-length movie and it was a huge success, becoming the second-highest grossing film in 1921. In 2011, The Kid was selected for preservation in the U. S. National Film Registry as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

Chaplin is (as he is always known as) the Little Tramp who finds an abandoned infant left an unwed mother (Edna Purviance) in the back seat of a stolen car with a note attached. Not willing to keep the baby at first, he softens and names the boy John. Fast forward five years, the Tramp and John (Jackie Coogan) make a dishonest living by throwing stones to break windows just so they can repair them! Meanwhile, the woman (Purviance) becomes a wealthy star. She does charity work among the poor to fill the void of her missing child. By chance, mother and child meet, but don’t recognize each other. When John gets sick, a doctor discovers that the Tramp is not the boy’s father and notifies the authorities. When John is taken away to an orphanage, a fight ensues and the Tramp regains his boy.

When the woman comes to see how the boy is doing, the doctor shows her the five-year-old note, which she recognizes as her own! John & the Tramp, on the run from the police, spend the night in a flophouse, but the manager sees a $1000 reward for the child, and snatches up the boy. When the Tramp wakes up, he frantically searches for John, but returns home exhausted and despaired, only to fall asleep outside his locked doorway. In his sleep, he enters a dreamland with flying angels and devils. (Look to see a 12-year-old Leta Grey as a cute little flirtatious angel. Chaplin would end up getting her pregnant and marrying her four years later!) The Tramp is awakened by a policeman, who places the Tramp in a car and rides with him to a house where the door opens where the woman and John emerge, reuniting everyone for the requisite happy ending.

Chaplin was a true master as his craft; there was none better. He wrote, directed, produced, starred, did the casting, and even scored the music. Sure he was a flagrant womanizer, an exacting control freak, and a mad genius at film making, but look at the movies he turned out! He knew how to get the best out his actors (even going as far as firing them in mid-production, then starting all over again with new ones!) and boy, could he write monologues!. Rent “The Great Dictator” for that! Chaplin played to the audiences and knew “the formula” – make ’em laugh, make ’em cry – a formula that Pixar’s John Lasseter still uses today in all his movies.

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