Written by: Natalie Morales & Mark Duplass
Starring: Natalie Morales, Mark Duplass, Desean Terry
With a whole world going through similar circumstances of physical connection facing limitations, shifting over to a virtual one became the reality. While fostering meaningful relationships became more challenging, it did not become impossible as showcased in the beautifully moving Language Lessons. An ode to the beauty of crafting friendships even if it all occurs behind a screen.
Jokingly purchased 100 Spanish lessons by his husband, Adam (Mark Duplass) decides to go through with them with his instructor, Cariño (Natalie Morales). As they go through each lesson through their spoken lessons, they begin to form a bond as each of them begins to experience life-changing events.
Limitations brought on by the Coronavirus pandemic certainly had its ripple effects around the world and the film industry saw nothing different with the lack of safe sets to put together these films. This allowed for creativity to blossom and Language Lessons truly shows how much can be done without actually having people share a room. A story told through the lens of virtual meeting spaces but it never skips a beat because the level of heart and soul put forth by the two actors works absolute wonders.
Beginning as a prank, the lessons between them show Adam has some semblance of understanding but could definitely use some work, which Cariño sets to help sharpen with their lessons. Their conversations go from English and Spanish in the art of teaching but also for the purpose of demonstrating the different ways these two can interact. As they practice what they say, they begin to talk about other aspects of life as comes naturally when a relationship moves from being strictly professional to a budding friendship.
This relationship between the two does not come with any hope of there being any sort of romance or anything else than two people who genuinely begin to care for each other and share in each other’s small victories and pain. The idea that this could all occur over web conversations serves as a beacon of hope for what can be achieved through simply talking with people. Sure, you do not have the physical presence of the other individual, but all that truly matters is what can be achieved by talking with another person and the care that can be nurtured because of it.
Having video chats serve as the platform for these conversations, the different functions serve as strong directorial tools for Natalie Morales to push the emotions of this film. Something as simple as not turning on the camera and leaving oneself on mute makes a discernible difference in the mood of the story and serves as another means for how these characters will communicate with each other. Morales uses this to her full advantage in painting the portrait for the struggles these two go through and it simply becomes a delight to experience as the narrative goes on Cariño and Adam get closer.
It goes without saying but much of the heavy lifting of this film comes from the two actors, Natalie Morales and Mark Duplass as every scene contains them speaking on this virtual platform. While Duplass can be spoken of more, much of the spotlight deserves to be on Morales. Someone who has thrived in smaller bits of television, directing and starring in this feature truly comes as a revelation to her level of talent. The mere idea of putting this film together must have felt like a long shot but actually being able to make it all work in execution demonstrates she’s a director to watch and I certainly cannot wait to experience what else she has in store for us. As an actor, she goes toe to toe with Duplass in carrying the emotional sequences of this story. From the quiet pauses to the bits of anger, she leaves such an impression with her work here, but it all comes together at its best through her neverending charm. She lights up the screen through her work as Cariño as she brings this ray of sunshine no matter what occurs here, which means the instances where her light gets dimmed, even slightly, are so much more impactful.
The level of respect Mark Duplass gains in my estimation cannot be understated with his decisions to get involved in small but impactful projects much like this one. As evident with many works in his filmography, he loves making smaller projects with his friends and none of them feel lazy or cynical in their production. He teams up with Morales as he helped co-write the script and stars in the feature to bring his particular brand of comedy to this story. Much like Morales, his wise-cracking nature allows for when this story goes for the gut punch it leaves a definitive mark. The chemistry he builds with her is simply divine.
Serving as a wonderful reminder of what it truly means to connect with someone, Language Lessons captures this simple beauty through conversations on a screen. Something that would never have had the opportunity to be visually ambitious but nevertheless succeeds because of its beautifully emotional script and touching performances. It demonstrates the power of story and how at times, the visual flair does not need to be present to tell something engaging and moving at the same time.