by George Wolf
Yes, Language Lessons is a “Zoom call” movie. But don’t let that keep you from dialing in, or you’ll miss a completely charming two-hander that has plenty to say, with and without subtitles.
Natalie Morales directs from a script she co-wrote with Mark Duplass, one that finds Adam (Duplass) waking up to an unexpected gift: Spanish lessons with an online tutor named Cariño (Morales).
Adam, who’s living a privileged life in Oakland with husband Will (Desean Terry), is already pretty good at Spanish, but revisiting the language reminds him of his days before wealth, which helps to ease his liberal guilt.
Cuban native Cariño came to the U.S. as a child, but now lives a less than privileged life teaching Spanish from her home in Costa Rica.
The duo’s script upends us by dropping a major bomb in the first act, and then settles in to a sweetly touching rumination on the need for cultivating human connections – regardless of the obstacles.
Morales, a veteran actress who only expands on the directing promise she showed with the wonderfully smart teen sex romp Plan B earlier this year, divides the film via classroom appropriate headers ranging from “Immersion” to “Context,” and “Extra Credit” to “Fluency.”
And, of course, these titles also apply to the budding friendship of Adam and Cariño. They laugh, and cry, make assumptions and then push each other away, and the improvisational nature of the two terrific performances is consistently anchored with personality and authenticity. As these two grow to care deeply about each other, it becomes nearly effortless to care about them.
Adam’s sexual identity takes the rom out of this com early, and the film is better for it. The fact that he’s extremely wealthy is all the flirting we need with narrative convenience, leaving Morales and Duplass more room to expand on what the film is really getting at.
Because while we’ve come to associate Zoom meetings with lockdown, the film itself steers clear of it.
And though Language Lessons may have all the markings of a pandemic production, it’s not a “pandemic” film. These two souls are worlds apart due to circumstance rather than quarantine. But they crave to enrich their own lives through sharing them with someone else, and end up giving us a poignant reminder to make more friends and fewer excuses.
Just be sure to take yourself off mute.