No se Aceptan Devoluciones

This evening I had a craving for a Nathan’s corn dog, and made haste to the nearest one I could find, located in downtown Brooklyn. I am still relatively new to the area, and found out upon arrival that the location had closed since the last time Google had gone by to take a picture.

Luckily, there was a movie theater a few blocks down, which I had been to before, and which I knew sold a Nathan’s corn dog bites combo.12 I was feeling in the mood for a break3 and decided to go ahead and see a movie. The next one up was something that sounded familiar but that I had no recollection of: Instructions Not Included (No se Aceptan Devoluciones). A couple in front of me bought tickets, so I went for it.

At first, I had my trepidations. The movie starts out as what seems like a typical rom-com setup: Valentín, a man-child in Acapulco with a bad case of commitment-phobia, cycles through more women than I drink sodas.4 His refrain to the parade of bedmates, when asked why he likes them: “You’re different.” Finally, while sitting on the rocks overlooking the ocean, he tells a blond woman that she’s his first and last love.

Cut to a year later, when the blond, Julie, walks in on him, baby in hand, our man-child clambering out of bed leaving two other women in it. The baby is his, of course, she just needs $10 to pay the cab waiting downstairs. He scrounges up a $20 and she heads down and goes straight to the airport, leaving the baby Maggie with Valentín.

This is a story we know: two young people afraid of commitment are forced together and find love.

But Instructions5 has something else up its sleeve. After rushing to the airport and watching Julie get on a plane to L.A., Valentín hikes and hitches with baby Maggie to The Golden State. Upon arriving, he learns that Julie has already moved from L.A. to New York6, but befriends a B-movie mogul named Frank and slips into a career as a stuntman.

Over the course of the next 6 years, Valentín builds a beautiful and fun-filled life for himself and Maggie, who is spoiled with toys and enjoys days at a time away from school to join her Papa on set and at fun excursions. They are simultaneously both adults and children together, and Valentín spins fantastical stories about Maggie’s mother through a series of weekly letters about her adventures saving the world.

Loreta Peralto gives a charming and adorable performance as the bilingual Maggie, playing perfectly off Eugenio Derbez’s Valentín. Their father-daughter relationship is palpable and touching. As Maggie starts to wonder increasingly about her mother, Valentín considers using his Hollywood connections to cast a Julie lookalike to stage a mother-daughter reunion.

Cue a phone call from the real Julie (Jessica Lindsey), and a deft transition from comedic send-up to family drama.

I don’t want to spoil anything further, except to say that this was one of the most moving stories I’ve seen in some time, with many surprises and delights, and a touching narrative about life, love, and family. The musical score is overused to convey the emotional states, and the movie veers too far into melodrama7 at times, but it is all worthwhile in the end.

Highly recommended.8

  1. A few weeks ago, I had gone to this particular theater on a rare night off after work to see The Wolverine. Having arrived when the movie was already in trailers, and hungry, I noticed the man in front of me had ordered the corn dog combo, so I decided to give it a go. I was in a rush, so I grabbed some mustard packets and made my way into the already pitch-black theater. Feeling a bit voracious and unable to see my food, or even where I was squirting the mustard, those corn dog bites really hit the spot. The movie did not. ↩︎

  2. My Wolverine experience had one notable exception: at a crucial moment, Hugh Jackman stood in silhouette in the hallway of a Japanese palace, the dark and stormy night of a courtyard behind him, with a rather lengthy sword piercing his recently-healing-reenabled heart, straight through his back. When he stripped the steel from its scabbard, the gentleman behind me barked: “WOL-VE-RIIINE!!” ↩︎

  3. For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been binge-watching Breaking Bad, and caught up last night. Without giving anything away, I’ll just say, “Holy shit.” ↩︎

  4. A lot↩︎

  5. The original title, No se Aceptan Devoluciones more accurately translates to “No Returns Accepted,” which in my humble opinion would have made for a preferable U.S. title. ↩︎

  6. Having made this move myself, I have to say I recommend it. At this point in the movie, I found myself wishing Valentín would hitchhike with the baby across the country all the way to Manhattan. ↩︎

  7. Eugenio Derbez, who also produced and directed the picture, is a Mexican television star. ↩︎

  8. If you’re lucky like I was, you might catch the trailer for Machete Kills, if you’re into that sort of thing. ↩︎