Thursday, December 5, 2013

Instructions Not Included review: Adoption Movie Guide

Valentin lives in Acapulco, and engages in many short relationships with vacationing young women. One of his former lovers, Julie, shows up at his doorstep holding a baby, Maggie. She explains that the child is his, and she quickly disappears. Valentin learns that Julie is from the United States. He goes to Los Angeles to try to locate her. Although Valetin does not find Julie, he does impress a movie director when he heroically rescues Maggie. Valentin becomes a top stunt man and establishes a successful career for himself, while providing a good life for Maggie. And then, years later, Julie returns, demanding that Maggie be returned to her. Valentin engages in court battles to try to keep Maggie. Valentin knows that a medical issue is threatening to separate him from Maggie, and so he is willing to try anything to keep together with her.

The Adoption Connection

The film absolutely raises the question, “What makes a person a parent? Genetics or behavior?”

Valentin creates an elaborate story to explain the absence of Maggie’s mother to her. Maggie eventually learns that it is all lies, and this shakes Maggie’s faith in Valentin.

Strong Points

Valentin quickly grows up into a mature, loving father.

Even though their relationship is heavily conflicted, Valentin and Julie are ultimately able to work together to meet Maggie’s needs.


The movie portrays Julie’s re-investment into Maggie’s life as love-based but antagonistic. This isn’t unrealistic, and it’s helpful to realize that an antagonistic relationship between adoptive and birthparents (or between separate birthparents) can be fueled by good intentions and love. Julie and Valentin eventually do work together, but there is a lot of conflict and harmful words spoken, and Maggie is caught in the middle.

Valentin goes on the run to maintain his relationship with Maggie. This is problematic, but it is understandable. Like Dandelion Dust had a similar scene, but seemed much more troubling.

There is a particularly sad ending to the film.

Weak Points

Kids aren’t always desired; one character explains, “I want an abortion.” Another complains about “damn cheap condoms.”

Maggie experiences lots of dangerous situations as a baby.

Valentin’s well-intentioned effort to explain Maggie’s mother’s absence does far more harm than good. Kids have a right to know the (age-appropriate) truth; but truth tempered for age-appropriateness is different than a fanciful lie. When Julie does meet Maggie, she quickly and bluntly dispels the stories that Maggie has believed her whole life, simply saying, “Your dad made all of it up.”

Valentin seems to try to manipulate Maggie into liking him more. He also makes a crude but clever pun about Maggie’s mother choosing to prioritize other things instead of Maggie.

One child is told “Your mom didn’t love you, so she left.”

Instructions Not Included is at times heart-wrenching, at times endearing, and at times thought-provoking. I wouldn’t recommend it for kids, but I do recommend it for prospective adoptive parents – it’s a well-made film and it lends itself to serious and important thoughts.

Questions for After the Movie

What makes a parent, a parent?

Was Julie’s involvement in Maggie’s life a positive or a negative thing?

Why did Valentin run? Was he right or wrong for doing it?

Maggie was a valued part of Valentin’s family. If Julie gets her way, what would happen to that relationship?

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