Language Lessons

A video shout-out to Natalie Morales and Mark Duplass.

I apologize if I’m late with my review of “Language Lessons,” but even film critics have complicated schedules. I had my cousin’s wedding, visits to the New York Film Festival and the Chicago International Film Festival, and getting my photo ops at New York Comic Con. Excuses, excuses, but I wasn’t able to fit this zooming artisan feature into my roster.

However, when I was invited to join the New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) organization, I was given a screener of this movie for its “For Your Consideration” memo. And plus, the movie is now available on various streaming services, if you couldn’t see it at your local art house theater.

The reason why I describe “Language Lessons” as a “zooming artisan feature” is because Natalie Morales directs and co-writes with Mark Duplass in the story of two people who speak to each via zoom chats, and begin a platonic relationship. It’s not a love story, just because there is a man and a woman in the same movie, but rather an examination on how these two individuals connect and struggle to overcome their own obstacles. And it’s funny and endearing as well.

Duplass stars as a 40-something-year-old Oakland resident named Adam, whose husband Will (Desean Terry of “The Morning Show”) gives him a surprise gift: 100 virtual Spanish lessons from Carino (Morales) on location in Costa Rica. He wasn’t expecting this, especially with his morning routine, and even she is surprised it was a gift, but they still go through with the lessons. He speaks the language very well, but still needs some help with some words like “embarazado,” which means “pregnant,” not “embarrassed.” Remember: some words in Spanish may look the same as English words, but they’re totally different.

The reason Adam is late for their next meeting is because he just lost his husband, and is struggling to regain himself, which is why he and Carino send video messages to each other. And then, they resume their lessons, which turn into conversations about how their lives are turning out for better or worse.

“Language Lessons” digs deeper inside these two characters and acknowledges what they’re respectively going through. It’s about their connection through words and languages, and how they take their time to adjust to their classes or conversations. Carino tries to get it through Adam’s head that she’s his teacher, not his friend, while he believes they can be friends. I would have love to see more Spanish lessons for what they can teach others, besides them, but the movie still wants to overcome the cynicism and sadness within the two characters.

Morales directs, writes, and acts with a sense of commitment and honesty, while Duplass co-writes and acts with emotions and humor. Even she gets a laugh every once in a while. But mostly, these two deal with the struggles of their own situations, some they want to walk about, others they reserve to themselves.

In a different way, their platonic relationship reminded me of how Ed Helms and Patti Harrison could care less about love and more about friendship in “Together Together.” They may focus on different topics, but they still form some of the year’s most unexpected relationships with performances so vibrant and so truthful. It’s an impressive directorial debut for Morales, and again, I’m sorry I’m late with this review, but still better late than never.

Rating: 3.5 out of 4.

Now Streaming On Demand

Categories: comedy, Drama

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