‘LANGUAGE Lessons’ is a perfect film for watching during the pandemic although it’s not at all about the coronavirus. The whole movie is seen on the computer screens or cellphones of the two lead characters who communicate online in their video meetings. Those who attend zoom meetings and online classes can easily relate.
The film starts with a Hispanic woman, Cariño (Natalie Morales), waiting for someone to show up on the screen of her laptop. It turns out she was earlier contacted by Will (who we never see) to be the online teacher of Adam (Mark Duplass, who we best remember as the producer in “The Morning Show”) who wants to learn how to speak Spanish more fluently.
Will and Mark are a same-sex couple who are legally married to each other. The language classes is Will’s present to Adam. At first, Adam is not sure if he could attend his classes, but Cariño tells him that Will has already paid for the 100 weekly lessons in advance. Somehow, he hits it off quite well with Cariño.
On their next meeting, he informs Cariño that his husband has just died the night before, after being hit by a car. Obviously traumatized, he sounds so disoriented because of the tragedy. He then unexpectedly opens up to Cariño and an emotional bond is established between them.
At first, we didn’t know if we’d be able to sit all throughout this film, which has only two characters who are just shown communicating with each other through the internet. But as the two characters converse with each other, we get hooked and we became curious as to where all this would be going.
In this season of the pandemic, we have made transactions largely over the webcam. And online classes have become very common in this time of lockdowns and quarantines, so we know that what transpires in the movie is very plausible.
The screenplay was written both by the stars themselves, Mark and Natalie, and the latter also directed the movie which they co-produced. It works because of the winning chemistry between them.
They play off each other winningly and the film has many comic instances that lighten up the material which is about grief and moving on, but given a charmingly improvisational light touch that makes the subsequent development of the platonic friendship between them believable.
They get to know more of each other. Adam’s late husband is very wealthy and has left him with lots of money in their huge California mansion. Cariño is based in Costa Rica and is obviously not well off. The script touches on some valid issues, like when Cariño is shown on screen with some bruises on her face and Adam concludes that she is battered by an abusive boyfriend.
His assumptions are based on the limited information one gets in internet communications like this and Adam is chided for his “white savior” posturings. Their warm rapport with each other helps sustain our interest on what’s going on between them despite the limitations of the storytelling’s basic framework.
And their very relaxed performances truly enhance the material that can be bitter sweet and even darkly hilarious, never drifting into mawkish melodrama. Both give engaging performances that can by turns be subtle and witty. We get to willingly sympathize with the growing friendship of these two very dissimilar persons and the final scene of the movie is so heartwarming it unexpectedly made us shed a tear or two.
“Language Lessons” is a small film showing the many uses of today’s modern technology and virtual relationships that can alternately be funny and heartbreaking. It’s the perfect foil for all those loud superhero and fantasy films so common these days. Be sure to have a box of tissues close at hand when you watch it.