"Instructions Not Included" ("No se Aceptan Devoluciones") provided one of the biggest box office shocks of the the film year last week when it took in $10 million during its opening weekend. What makes that number so staggering is that the film opened in only 347 theaters, and it's in Spanish.
Most films open on more than 1,000 screens. For example, "The Getaway" opened the same weekend as "Instructions" on more than 2,100 screens but took in only half as much at the box office.
The biggest surprise is that foreign-language movies have always been a tough sell with English-speaking audiences. The top grossing Spanish-language movies from Mexico include "Pan's Labyrinth" in 2006 with $37 million and "Like Water for Chocolate" in 1992 with $23 million. "Instructions" is on a pace to top both.
What the opening numbers for "Instructions Not Included" show is that a movie made with heart and love and seasoned with a touch of humor speaks volumes in any language. It has been years since a film has moved so seamlessly from humor to sweetness without coming across as pandering to the audience.
The film works because it starts with a simple story. Valentín's (Eugenio Derbez) carefree playboy life comes to an end when his ex-girlfriend Julie (Jessica Lindsey) drops off the baby daughter he didn't know he had and heads back to the United States. The only recourse Valentín has is to travel from Acapulco to Los Angeles to find the missing mom.
Through a series of light comedy events, Valentín ends up staying in the United States, where he has a newfound job as a stuntman. Things seem perfect until Julie returns.
Derbez, who also directed the film, gives the movie a strong core through his expressive face. It's easy to believe this is a man despite deep fears who would jump off a building for his child. He's equally comfortable in the lighter moments that keep the film from becoming an emotional bottomless pit.
His biggest asset is young actress Loreto Peralta, whose performance as Maggie is the emotional equal to the sterling work by Derbez. She lifts our hearts with a smile and breaks it with a tear. There are veteran actors who have never come close to such a wonderful performance.
The pair bring to life a this story that lovingly shows life doesn't need instructions as long as you have boundless love. This is why moviegoers made "Instructions Not Included" such a big hit last week. It's a response that should only grow stronger in upcoming weeks.
A major theme in "Instructions Not Included" is facing fear. Don't let concerns about seeing a film with subtitles keep you from this sweet movie.
"Instructions Not Included," rated PG-13 for language, adult themes. Spanish with English subtitles. Stars Eugenio Derbez, Jessica Lindsey, Loreto Peralta. Directed by Derbez. Running time: 100 minutes. Grade: B+
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, email@example.com or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.