Have you seen this movie called Instructions Not Included? It just happens to be the highest grossing Spanish language film in the US ever. Of all time. EVER. Yes, higher than Pan’s Labyrinth. What do you mean you’ve never heard of it? Unlike Guillermo Del Toro’s mythical masterpiece, Instructions is a silly, sappy, melodramatic comedy/ drama that is about as far from an art film as you could get (it’s also a lot of fun and a shameless tearjerker). Unlike other high grossing foreign films in the US Instructions is not an Oscar contender nor an action extravaganza (like, say Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon which was both)
Instructions is just a regular movie. Writer/ Director/ Star Eugenio Derbez is a huge star in Mexico and that accounts for some of the film’s appeal. Also the fact that Instructions was released in the US prior to Mexico helped to stave off piracy, but ultimately, the success of Instructions comes down to two things: the previously untapped buying power of Latino Americans and the genuine desire for live action family friendly films. Latino Americans make up nearly 20% of the US population (that’s more than Blacks and Asian Americans combined) but Hollywood has not found a way to appeal to Latino Americans as a whole. Also, Instructions strikes a delicate balance. Although the majority of the film is in Spanish, there is still plenty of English and most of the action takes place in Los Angeles. The star speaks only Spanish (in the film) but many of the other characters are played by white actors who go back and forth between English and Spanish. The end result is a heartwarming family film that appeals to Latino Americans but also isn’t too foreign for English speaking audiences in middle America. Instructions harkens back to 1980s comedies like Three Men and a Baby and Mister Mom and it is also reminiscent of 1979’s Kramer vs. Kramer (not in quality but in subject matter and the balance of comedy and drama). I think audiences are looking for more of those types of films that have nearly disappeared in the wake of dozens of action blockbusters per year.
At the end of the day, Instructions isn’t a “great” film, but I think it is a harbinger of things to come. We’ll have to see how Pulling Strings (another Spanish language film released by Pantelion Pictures) does in the coming weeks. It opened in 9th place with 2.5 million (not bad for another film you haven’t heard of). I’ve been brushing up on my Spanish recently and I suggest actors do so as well. This trend of Spanglish filmmaking may just be here to stay.