Review by Ken Burke Instructions Not Included
A Mexican movie (with English subtitles) that begins comically with a bachelor suddenly thrust into fatherhood but evolves into a more dramatic child-custody focus.
Affluent but bored housewife Rachel wants to enliven her life so she brings in a young stripper as a nanny, which leads to complications for all of the adults in the plot.
[Take care, curious readers, for plot spoilers gallop rampantly throughout the Two Guys’ brilliantly insightful reviews. This is how we write, so as to explore what must be said as art transcends commerce (although if anyone wants to pay us for doing this ...); therefore, be warned, beware, and read on when ready to be transported to—well, wherever we end up.
We also encourage you to check your tastes against ours with the summary of Two Guys reviews, which we update with each new posting. But please be aware that the links we recommend in our reviews may have been removed or modified without our knowledge. Other overall notations for this blog may be found at our Two Guys in the Dark homepage. Now, onward to illumination; you may want to protect your eyes from the brilliance.]
Sometimes this review site is like Forrest Gump’s “box of chocolates” in that you never know what you’re gonna get in terms of what will be covered. This week I managed to avoid the money-makers from the current Top 10 Domestic Box-Office Champs that I just have no interest in (Riddick [David Twohy], Planes [Klay (what a perfect name for a Disney/quasi-Pixar guy) Hall], One Direction: This Is Us [Morgan Spurlock; seems like We Be 1 D would be a more interesting title, but, then again, I’m so far from the target audience of this big-sensation-boy-band that I doubt I could possibly make even a plausible comment about their world], and Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters [Thor Freudenthat]) while I’ve already seen the others in the ticket-sales-upper-echelon (Lee Daniels’ The Butler [now who was the director of that again?], We’re the Millers [Rawson Marshall Thurber], Elysium [Neill Blomkamp], Blue Jasmine [Woody Allen], and The World’s End [Edgar Wright]—reviews of these, respectively, in the Two Guys August 22, August 16, and August 30, 2013 postings), so I set out instead for more unexpected, independent fare. I got that in a somewhat unusual manner, in that Afternoon Delight (Jill Soloway)—which will be explored below—easily fits my assumed criteria but the most unanticipated offering of all, in that it’s a Mexican film with subtitles, the sort of option that English-only speakers routinely reject for cinematic entertainment, is Instructions Not Included (Eugenio Derbez—making his feature directorial debut—although a suggested clip below indicates that this was codirected by Alessandra Rosaldo, wife of Derbez, actor in this movie, and first directorial effort for her as well, although it’s gone uncredited except for interviews) which has shot up to #3 nationwide after only 2 weeks in release. Admittedly, its total gross so far of just over $20 million is nowhere close to the $123.6 million that … The Millers has socked away nor the stunning $357.5 million for Despicable Me 2 (Pierre Coffin, Chris Renaud; another one that I’ve made no effort to catch up with), but with Instructions Not Included playing in a mere 717 theaters it’s yielding an astounding $11,366 theater average, higher than anything else except the barely-opened documentary Salinger (Shane Salerno) with a seeming-powerhouse-take of $21,739 average, but for only 4 houses (not helped by its 32% rating at Rotten Tomatoes; I may not be seeing that one either). So, what’s packing in audiences for Instructions Not Included, a movie with scant promotional presence and little to speak of in terms of critical response? (The Tomato tossers say 60% but that’s from just 10 reviews, while the “elite” at Metacritic offer only 58% but that’s based on a whopping 4 commentaries; my local hallowed San Francisco Chronicle didn’t even bother to review it.) One very plausible possibility is that the Hispanic population of this country is growing rapidly (certainly faster than the GOP response to immigration reform; be forewarned 2014 House members) so there’s a ready audience for a star (Derbez again) with a strong track record in numerous hit vehicles throughout Latin America; another is that is even for us gringos there’s an easy-to-laugh-at (or so we think) premise of a young lothario finding himself on the wrong end of a diaper-changing table (based on his sexual exploits which fly by in opening shots, so I’ll leave that last remark to your imagination), which conjures up old references such as Three Men and a Baby (Leonard Nimoy, 1987; a remake of the French Trois homes et un couffin [Coline Serreau, 1985]). However, be forewarned that if you choose to join the crowds who are packing in for Instructions … you’re going to get a lot more sentiment and heartbreak than laughter because this border-crossing story shifts gears about halfway into—SPOILER ALERT for the rest of the review, even in addition to my usual warnings because the whole plot hinges on this—Kramer vs. Kramer (Robert Benton, 1979) and what you’d at first assume would be Terms of Endearment (James L. Brooks, 1983) territory, although the climatic character demise is a switch from what you think you’ve been set up for.
The setup is simply that Valentín (Derbez) has impregnated love-struck Julie (Jessica Lindsey), yielding little Maggie who’s dropped into his Acapulco lap while she heads to NYC to pursue a law career; however, this not-ready-for-fatherhood hombre thinks Julie’s in LA so he heads north to reunite mother with baby, only to grow fond enough of his daughter so as not to want to have her confiscated at the border should he try to return to Mexico once he loses track of Julie. Then, through a series of quickly-run coincidences Valentín begins a career as a movie stuntman which allows him to stay under the La Migra radar, raise Maggie in toy-heaven luxury, and fabricate outlandish letters from “Mom” about why Maggie’s never seen her over the 7 years that our story quickly gallops through. Along the way there’s a decent helping of pleasing humor, a growing appreciation for the poorly-executed-but-noble-intentions of Valentín as a father, and an impossible-to-reject-fondness for the charming presence of bi-lingual, multi-worldview Maggie (Loreto Peralta in the bulk of the film, various little ones before that) who comes on set with her father to see the fantasies he enlivens (and to encourage him to do the dangerous but well-paid stunts that support them), lives in what looks like a large-apartment-size Disneyland (somewhat like the toy-centered dwelling of Tom Hanks’ magical-child-suddenly-in-an-adult-body-where-everyone-in-his-toy-company-surroundings-thinks-he’s-a-genius-because-he’s-not-a-Don-Drapper-Madison-Avenue-type-cynic in Big [Penny Marshall, 1988]—a fascinating conceit but one that somewhat takes its own inspiration of misinterpretation-of-actions-to-fit-the-need-of-the-interpreter from the magnificent situation of intellectually-challenged-yet-highly-admired-political-guru Chauncey Gardiner [Peter Sellers] in Being There [Hal Ashby, 1979]), and has a skewed understanding of the world based on the "Mom" letters that simply incorporate Julie into all sorts of adventures just as easily as the one photo of her that Valentín has is copied and transformed into an endless stream of Photoshop superimpositions (where Julie interacts with everyone from Charlie Chaplin to Adam Sandler and enters a wonder world of media events, such as replacing Kate Winslet in the Titanic [James Cameron, 1997] poster). Despite growing suspicions of Maggie’s overblown fantasy life by her schoolmates and concerns about this and her frequent absences from her teachers, Maggie’s leading an idyllic life with a job-weary but loving father … until Julie actually does make contact and reveal that she wants back into Maggie’s life. (OK, this is a cue for our first musical-interlude commentary, as we move time in the same fast fashion as Instructions Not Included by heading way back to a 1965 telecast of the pop-music TV show Hullabaloo for The Zombies’ “She’s Not There” at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tKmA_9b SHYI, the situation about Julie that at first plagued Valentín when he didn’t know how much he loved his daughter and then became Maggie's problem in her yearning for elusive Mom. Yet, when Julie suddenly is there things prove to be a lot more complicated than these simple lyrics imply.)
From this point on I think it will be a matter of individual tastes as to how well Instructions Not Included develops the rest of its plot. We saw in quick scenes in the beginning how Valentín’s father, the famous Acapulco diver Johnny Bravo (Hugo Stiglitz), prepared his son to face life’s challenges by exposing him to all sorts of scary situations, which supposedly made him fearless (even as he recognized the enormity of the tasks he faced which he equated with being stalked by wolves, so these fierce beasts always appear in his imagination—but on screen for our benefit—when the stakes are high, as with various jumps he must do for his job from heights that overwhelm him or when he must deal with the evolving conflict of Julie’s desire for custody of Maggie), but we’re given reason to question how successful Johnny’s methods were for while Valentín will ultimately do anything needed to keep his job on track or keep Maggie in his life he’s not really a paragon of steely nerves in his approaches and responses. In fact, we’re told early on that what Dad didn’t drive out of him was a fear of relationship commitments, which is why he was so much on the prowl—just like those wolves—in Acapulco before Maggie changed everything for him (except her own diapers). He also apparently has a fear of learning English despite his several years in north-of-the-border-residence (ironically, playing right into one of the complaints of many immigration-reform opponents, although the rest of the movie gives good evidence of what a model citizen this visa-less immigrant has become), depending largely on Maggie and multi-lingual friends to navigate LA for him. One area in which he has no fear is concocting Julie’s imaginary life for Maggie’s benefit, although he manages at times to address his own feelings about her abandonment of the child, as with a story he includes about how a duckbilled platypus abandons her nest in favor of providing environmental support to a threatened river-rodent, with a comment about choosing “beaver over eggs” which makes for a nice double entendre (along with a running gag about a female neighbor of Valentín’s who frequently needs his help in “unclogging her pipes” so as to keep Maggie in the dark about why her dad needs to visit this woman so often) while not challenging the PG-13 rating. Having played these comic aspects for about all they’re worth at this midway point, the directors shift gears into confrontation mode as Julie, encouraged by her NYC lover Reneé (Rosaldo; seemingly after rising above her addictions and stabilizing in her career Julie also realized her true sexual orientation) brings a custody suit against Valentín, claiming his job is too dangerous and the child’s understanding of the world is too frivolous for her best interests (including his tactic of “playing dead” after his most dangerous stunts so that Maggie can use a charm and incantation to seemingly “resurrect” him, thereby giving her a sense of supernatural powers along with the ensuing confidence in her command of the world around her). Early aspects of the hearing get us into comedy again, in a manner similar to the Seinfeld TV series finale, where Valentín’s credentials as a decent person are given scant defense because of real, exaggerated, and imagined problems from the life we’ve seen of him on screen (including an increasingly tiresome bit from his absent-minded building manager about not paying an elevator-usage fee). From there, though, we steer into tensely serious territory which begins to resemble the parenting-custody-crisis from Kramer vs. Kramer alluded to earlier but with even more twists that take us from drama to melodrama until the sad-but-enlightening ending attempts to put it all into mature perspective with a sense of imparting a spiritual lesson.
First we have Valentín’s victory when the judge decides in his favor pending his ability to find a less-dangerous job and keep his daughter in school on a more regular basis instead of accompanying him to movie sets (oddly his undocumented status never comes up as an issue [Maggie was born in LA to an American mother who was just following her youth-fueled passions in Acapulco those few years ago so no citizenship problems exist for the females here, but after all that concern about never trying to leave the U.S. with the child for fear that she’d be taken from her father it just seems strange that his legal status was never questioned at the custody hearing, especially as increasingly hostile Julie—who surely knew of Valentín’s situation—and increasingly fierce Reneé [this movie does little to challenge some of the stereotypes of lesbians as domineering shrews, even if that wasn’t the intention; maybe she’s just supposed to be passionately devoted to Julie’s perspective on parenthood, but unlike in Julie’s final scenes she’s never given any opportunity to soften that wolf-like attitude, so maybe Reneé’s just another of Valentín’s fundamental fears]). This quickly takes an unexpected turn, though, when Julie demands a paternity test that shows he’s not even the biological father so she now has not only the upper hand but the entire hand (despite the reminder from Nina, my wonderful, well-informed wife, that she’s aware of custody decisions that factor in years of parenting even when the genetics aren’t supportive, but let’s not let reality hamper the fast-and-furious turns of events that are hurling Instructions Not Included to its unexpected end). In a panic, Valentín escapes on foot with Maggie back to Mexico (those border guards aren’t as sharp as we’ve been led to believe, both here where Valentín first enters the U.S. as part of a truck full of other “visa-challenged” immigrants and in We’re the Millers where escaping-border-jumpers provide the necessary distraction that allows the phony family in that movie to simply drive across the line hauling enough marijuana to, as they note, “kill Willie Nelson”), where he finds that his father is dead but he and Maggie are welcomed by old family friends. Then, just as quickly as every other concluding plot turn, Julie shows up after having learned “the truth” that Valentín’s studio head and friend, Frank Ryan (Daniel Raymont), kept insisting that Valentín should have revealed at the trail but was kept in silence. Based on some circumstantial evidence we assume that Valentín has a deadly heart condition that could have taken him away from Maggie at any time. Instead—Do I have to repeat the Spoiler Alert again? OK, last warning—it was Maggie all along with the pump problem, who gets to spend 2 weeks of bliss with her pragmatically-reunited-for-the-child’s-benefit family before her sudden death. A year later we close with Valentín taking a philosophical beach stroll into the sunset with ruminations about how Maggie is happy in Heaven with her grandfather (all that’s missing is John Lennon’s “And now we’d like to do all the angels come” insert on the Beatles’ 1970 Let It Be album before Paul McCartney starts singing the title song [but you have to listen to the end of the previous track, "Dig It," to catch the comment]).
Instructions Not Included is a funny, then weepy mess of a movie at times, but one that’s fully heartfelt by its cast and production team. (Derbez says—see his interview video noted at the end of the review—that he was inspired years ago to make this story of the strong bond between a parent and a child after seeing Life Is Beautiful [directed, co-written, and starring Roberto Benigni; 1997 Oscar winner for Best Actor, Best Foreign Language Film, and Best Original Dramatic Score] about a father who goes to amazing limits within an Italian concentration camp to convince his little son that it’s all an elaborate game, until the end when the father is killed just before the camp is liberated.) As in the Benigni model, which took several years for Derbez to emulate (and, having just coincidentally seen it again last night, I must say offers a considerably better overall result than Instructions … ) there’s a mixture of frivolous comedy in the first half that turns darker and more challenging in the second, with the unflinching love that both of these fathers demonstrate for their children a connection that attempts to overcome any disjointed aspects of either plot, but for me Instructions Not Included just goes in too many directions (the simplest of which is the back-and-forth journey between Acapulco and LA, but others begin to go too far afield), tries to catch us off-guard just a bit too often, and ends up feeling more like a Hallmark than a Tarot card, but that doesn’t mean that audiences won’t find it enjoyable (as they obviously already have) nor that they won’t appreciate the superb comic-timing-plausible-switch-to-deadly-serious-abilities of Derbez and the constant charm of Peralta. I’ll conclude with a likely musical commentary that could also be called overly-sentimental but expresses similar inter-generational connections as those explored in Instructions Not Included, the old Crosby, Still, Nash, and Young standby, “Teach Your Children” (from the 1970 Déjà Vu album) at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0r4H3u1mrWc, recorded in concert at suburban London’s Wembly Stadium on Sept. 14, 1974. Such a soft sound may be hell for those who prefer Young’s more screeching guitar attacks, but just for now let’s join our troubadours, along with Valentín, Julie, and Maggie to put a little love in our hearts.
Unfortunately, for another mom in LA, there’s not nearly enough love in her heart or in any of her orifices in Afternoon Delight (with musical interludes freshly in mind we might as well get the obvious one from the Starland Vocal Band out of the way now at http://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=Fz1ex78QeQI, where their “Afternoon Delight” is considerably more upbeat and innocent than anything we’ll find in this film) as upscale but increasingly lifeless Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) finds that motherhood toward her very young son is fulfilling in itself but presents an increasing burden of negotiating with the other parents at her son’s school in the upscale central LA community of Silver Lake, that her love life has been roughly zero for about 6 months (even if her caring but job-distracted husband, Jeff [Josh Radnor], tries to initiate something), and that even her therapist, Lenore (Jane Lynch), is more interested in talking about her own lesbian (not that the gender arrangement really matters here any more than it does in Instructions Not Included, but Lenore makes a constantly foregrounded point of it) relationship than fully engaging with Rachel to whom she’s quite dismissive (even while upping the cost ante by suggesting that they meet twice rather than once a week). This gets us back to aspects of Kramer vs. Kramer also, as Rachel and Jeff’s situation somewhat resembles Joanna Kramer’s (Meryl Streep) situation of feeling unfulfilled in her own life despite the love for her young son, Billy (Justin Henry), and workaholic husband, Ted (Dustin Hoffman; Kramer … is a fine film to emulate for both of our offerings this week in that by winning Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, and Best Adapted Screenplay [Benton, from the novel by Avery Corman] it almost tied It Happened One Night [Frank Capra, 1934], One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest [Miloš Forman, 1975], and Silence of the Lambs [Jonathan Demme, 1991] as being the only films to sweep all of the major Oscars [although Best Original Screenplay would also be acceptable in the writing area, even as all 3 of these were adaptations] except for Streep’s Oscar being for Best Supporting Actress, which was good Academy politics given that if she’d tried for Best Actress she’d have been up against “you like me” Sally Field for Norma Rae [Martin Ritt], probably unbeatable that year). The main difference in this comparison is that Rachel wants more in her life but, unlike Joanna, doesn’t need to leave home and family to find a career (whereas Instructions Not Included is more like Kramer ..., except that Julie never had any intention of establishing a home with Valentín, even in her hetero days, as she knew that he was uninterested in settling into a committed relationship so she chose not to be anchored to the parenthood that resulted from their version of several afternoons’ delight). Rachel simply wants to find something that will bring substance to her secure-but-sedentary existence in order to use that spark to reignite what’s been in simmer-mode for far too long with Jeff. Returning again to musical metaphors, but this time with one more accurate to the situation at hand, we can borrow directly from the film’s soundtrack for a powerful rendition of “You Ain’t Alone” from Alabama Shakes’ overpowering Brittany Howard at http://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=K_26jVro3Us, a Jan. 17, 2013 concert in Sydney (song available on a purposely-retro 7” 45rpm, along with “Be Mine,” from the Live at Third Man Records 2012 series) with its poignant lyrics based on the concept of “You ain’t alone, so why you lonely?” (a marvelous musical question for Rachel, although in my ultra-reference mode this week I can’t help but also cite the long-gone vocalist that Brittany most reminds me of—despite no intention on her part for encouraging the comparison—Janis Joplin, whose heart-stopping rendition of Big Mama Thornton’s “Ball and Chain” [from the 1968 debut album of Big Brother and the Holding Company, Cheap Thrills, and here at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r5If816MhoU from the legendary 1967 Monterey Pop Festival] also feels appropriate for Rachel in its grinding evocation of a life unfinished, desperately in need of added substance [but we’re not talking Southern Comfort, despite Janis' choices] to keep it all from becoming meaningless).
Rachel’s quest suddenly takes shape, though, as the result of a suggestion from her friend Stephanie (Jessica St. Clair) that she and Jeff follow the tactic Stephanie and her husband use when things get a bit boring in the bedroom: a visit to a local strip club to get revved up then go home and act (lustfully) on the inspiration. Advice heeded, but after the club visit Rachel’s longing for sexual release doesn’t happen with Jeff, although some aspect of it begins to blossom when Stephanie buys Rachel a lap dance from 19-year-old (although she admits later that she’s 22, using the 19 gambit as a turn-on for her customers) McKenna (Juno Temple). Rachel tries to channel/rationalize her awakened feelings of purpose by skipping out on the many after-school activities organized by her circle of close friends/parents of her son’s classmates in order to track down McKenna so as to “save” this young woman from a life of exhibitionism and sex work (although no one—including therapist Lenore—except McKenna seems to know what that last term means, at least until the plot really heats up in the third act), as if Rachel’s calling is based in some extended-maternal need to restore order to a life that she sees as desperately foundering. However, after Rachel offers McKenna the option of moving into her house to work as a nanny for son Mason (Noah Kaye Bentley)—skipping over any prior discussion of this offer with Jeff—it’s clear that McKenna is stirring up something that precedes mother-bear-protectionism in Rachel, which almost explodes into action one day in Rachel’s bedroom between these women then takes another turn when Rachel accepts McKenna’s invitation to join her at the lush apartment of one of her clients where it’s anything but afternoon delightful for Rachel as her curiosity to simply watch is challenged by the guy’s invitation to join in, leaving her uncomfortable, confused, upset that she’s even there in the first place … and horny enough to jump Jeff as soon as she sees him, which works out fine for him but still leaves her short of an orgasm, although she acts as if she doesn’t really mind. Nevertheless, just as Afternoon Delight starts out in a Kramer vs. Kramer direction regarding a woman’s not-yet-fully-examined-life (which, as Socrates stated eons ago, isn’t worth living—at least until the examination aspect begins) it then veers into a Desperately Seeking Susan (Susan Seidelman, 1985) vein, where a similarly bored suburban housewife, Roberta (Rosanna Arquette)—living in Fort Lee, NJ in this version of the tale—lives vicariously through newspaper personals messages to and from the mysterious, vivacious Susan (Madonna), whom Roberta sets out to stalk but through a series of misadventures becomes connected to, finally resulting in divorce and her self-liberation into a new life of growth toward real satisfaction (if you’re ever in an academic state of mind you might consider reading David Shumway’s “Screwball Comedies: Constructing Romance, Mystifying Marriage” [at http://www.utsc.utoronto.ca/~03voroby/1224884.pdf], in which he argues that traditional screwball comedies from It Happened One Night on through the Spencer Tracy-Katharine Hepburn romances of the 1940s-‘50s [although you could include Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (Stanley Kramer, 1967) if you like] just amounted to an independently-minded woman trading subservience to her father to likewise status with her husband while Seidelman’s film is truly a new vision for women—like Joanna, Julie, and Rachel in later manifestations—to break free of socially-conditioned expectations and self-imposed limits). Unlike Roberta, though, Rachel realizes that some of what comes so naturally to McKenna—especially in her casual acceptance of sex as a pleasurable, lucrative profession—is intriguing to her but not something she’s ready to go through a sea change to achieve. She’ll soon find out that McKenna’s outlook on life in whatever neighborhood she inhabits has other un-embraceable aspects as well.
The film’s dramatic climax (prior to the dual-orgasm finale of Rachel and Jeff that lets us know emphatically that all that was previously broken is on the road to healing) consists of 2 intercut scenes where Rachel and her 4 closest friends are sharing feelings, drinking wine (in unwise quantities for Rachel, whose anxieties and confusions are reaching the boiling point), and celebrating Stephanie’s latest pregnancy (don't worry, Stephanie's not drinking) while back at Jeff’s house the husbands are playing poker, only to find that McKenna has decided to stay in but not in her room. She moves quickly from flirtation, to cocktail waitressing, to seduction, getting graphic with the hubbie of the woman who’s essentially the leader of Rachel’s pack, as the other men watch in a combination of nervous tension and vicarious envy, punctuated by periodic returns to Rachel and her increasingly-drunken-but-brutally-honest-pronouncements that finally lead to the breakup of her party and the return of the wives to what they assume will be the simple conclusion of a rather uncomfortable evening. Instead they find McKenna playing the most extended concept imaginable of a nanny (More "caregiving" than any of them had ever imagined!), which leads to immediate chaos for everyone then later Jeff moving out in a huff (somewhat justified in that he had no idea how sexual McKenna’s lifestyle was—although considering how she came into his home it’s a bit disingenuous for him to be that shocked—and horrified that this easy seductress was the caretaker of his child, somewhat stunned that his wife had somehow become wrapped up in what he was learning quickly to be more inappropriate behavior than he’s previously imagined, and—I hope—ashamed that things got so out of hand at his house during the card game with no objection from him—all of which could be compared, in minor part, to yet another related film, Ang Lee’s chilling The Ice Storm  set in the sexually-experimental 1970s where a group of Connecticut suburbanites attempt open marriages and sexual roulette in situations that leave the main characters emotionally wounded even as tragedy and discomfort is visited upon their children). McKenna leaves as well, but just back to her regular street-corner-hangouts where she’s quite comfortable and unapologetic about her behavior in Rachel’s world. (This reminds me of a story that I watched long ago in The Crying Game [Neil Jordan, 1992]—although it’s also used in Drive [Nicolas Winding Refn, 2011]—illustrated with a clip at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ugd _VB9iVFE) about a scorpion and a frog who come to a river where the scorpion asks the frog to transport him across; the frog is concerned that he’ll be stung and die, but the scorpion assures his companion he wouldn’t do that because then they would both drown. However, during the journey, the scorpion does strike, resulting in imminent death for both, for which the frog asks for an explanation to which the scorpion replies that to sting another is just his nature, which the frog should have realized. Rachel actually enhances her life after her encounter with “scorpion” McKenna, but the moral remains the same in that McKenna’s “sting” isn’t anything devious, just an expression of who she is and aspires to be despite Rachel’s misinterpretation that she needs “saving”). After a short separation Rachel and Jeff are the ones who are saved through their own determination (certainly they wouldn’t get any help from Lenore, who breaks down in a session with Rachel to admit that her own “eternal” relationship has ended, desperately turning to Rachel for support) so the primary couple reunites, all is well, and we end on Rachel’s long-awaited cries of orgiastic pleasure (which may be less stereotypical than Valentín walking into a sunset but is still a very expected ending here given what we’ve been set up for throughout the rest of the film).
Afternoon Delight writer-director Soloway makes her feature debut here also, with a great triumph at Sundance where she won the director’s award for U.S. Drama, a fine accolade for someone who’s determined to put women in the main flow of a story, provide a wealth of roles of varying impact, and encourage her lead female actors to show a sincere range of situations and emotions that would rarely be considered in more typical American fare. As much as I’m impressed by these intentions along with Hahn’s raw exposure of Rachel’s unspoken needs and traumatically-confused responses when she finally addresses her desires, though, I’m just not that fully enthusiastic about something that feels too connected to various influences that I’ve noted here as well as being a bit too obvious in some of its structure (the fruitless meetings with the therapist, the parallel wine party and poker game deterioration scenes, the long-sought “release” at the end). I’ll admit that maybe I’m just too much of a clueless male to fully appreciate what Soloway, Hahn, and Temple have delivered here, but I just don’t find the overall coherence that I’d prefer to see in a better-realized overall experience, such as in the referenced films that I’ve previously noted (further, Nina and I have just completed our annual Godfather trilogy marathon [Francis Ford Coppola; 1972, 1974, 1990]—complete with spaghetti, chianti, and Blu-Ray magnificence—so much as I might feel some momentary guilt about not giving higher ratings to this week’s noble intentions I must remind myself and anyone who’s willing to listen to me about what truly constitutes exquisite cinema; no matter how relevant the work of Derbez and Soloway may be to contemporary social realities these are just decent, well-intended films but not something that will be celebrated throughout the ages). Still, like Rachel and Jeff’s relationship, things are getting better here for audiences who want new, true, and insightful experiences at the cinema, so I’ll encourage you to see Afternoon Delight—if you can find it because it’s only playing in 25 theaters so far—and leave for now, offering a salute to getting better (we can only hope) in everything from international relations in the Middle East to interpersonal stability with one of the classics from 1967’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, “Getting Better” at http://www.youtube.com/watch ?v=waImFgAm7Cc (with various Beatle footage from over the years, or if you’d rather just listen to it with the single graphic of the album cover then here that is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jk0dBZ1meio along with lyrics if you need "a little help from [your] friends" in singing along). Until next week, may everything get “a little better all the time” for you and yours.
If you’d like to know more about Instructions Not Included here are some suggested links:
http://www.instructionsmovie.com/ (there’s not much to this site but it encourages you to link up with Facebook to share comments about it if you like)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HZi-gjDtTCk (short—3:05—interview with actor and uncredited codirector Alessandra Rosaldo) and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZLzkvnq0JxI (slightly longer interview with actors Eugenio Derbez [also co-director] and Loreto Peralta)
If you’d like to know more about Afternoon Delight here are some suggested links:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=abxmsCYKlYU (10:30 interview at Sundance with director Jill Soloway and actors Kathryn Hann and Juno Temple)
As noted above, we encourage you to look over our home page (ABOUT THE BLOG), found as the first one in our December 2011 postings, to get more information on what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, including our formatting forewarning about inconsistencies among web browser software which we do our best to correct but may still cause some visual problems beyond our control, as well as difficulties we’ve encountered with the Google RSS Feed Alert when used in conjunction with iGoogle and Google Reader.
Please note that to Post a Comment you need to either have a Google account (which you can easily get at https://accounts.google.com/NewAccount if you need to sign up) or other sign-in identification from the pull-down menu below before you preview or post.
If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my new email at email@example.com. Thanks.
By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken
P.S. Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.