Natalie Morales Language Lessons is as assured a film as you could dream of seeing; aided by the fantastic Mark Duplass, they have created a piece rife with emotion and relatability. Unafraid to play with your heart, it is simply faultless.
When Adam (Mark Duplass) reluctantly receives a gift from his partner of 100 Spanish lessons with Cariño (Natalie Morales), neither teacher nor student are convinced it will last. However, following events beyond their control, the pair find themselves becoming each other’s lifelines, despite living in different countries and barely knowing one another.
Using Zoom or Skype, or Teams for the entirety of your film is always going to be a hit or miss endeavour and one usually set aside for horror. However, films like The 12 Day Tale of the Monster That Died in 8 showed us how much we need to communicate and connect to get by in life and Language Lessons. That idea is continued in the at times devastating, but overwhelminlg heart-warming tale.
As said, connection is key; anyone who has been living alone or in an isolated manner will attest to this over the past year and a half. The urge and need to connect with another human are ingrained within us; we are not built for solitude. So when a horrible moment bursts through early on, the film takes quite an unexpected turn. Adam is clearly in shock, and to help distance himself from what has happened in his life, he focuses on the purpose of Cariño’s call, to speak Spanish. When he tries to find the words in his second language, it breaks you as it almost does with Cariño.
When there are gentle lulls in Language Lessons, the personability of both leads carries us through. Both Duplass and Morales are fantastic here, you simply can’t help but love these two characters, and it is due to the performances that we fall for them as quickly and efficiently as we do. As we know from their previous work, both actors have outstanding comedic timing, and they take advantage of that to bring us something that truly feels real. Both are more than able to handle the lighthearted and the heavy moments that they have written. However, it is the little moments in their performances that work so well and provide such well rounded characters.
At no point do you think that this scenario feels fake, which can be quite challenging to do with a film that is filmed in such a way and dependant on audiences own relationship with video technology. By the sheer force and intrigue of their conversations or messages to one an you are allowed to ease back and take in everything that we see. Such is the ability of the pair to bounce off one another from different spaces that their arc together works. From the awkward first meeting to their wonderful first lesson and final conversation, it all works so smoothly. Though remember never to use “embarazado” for the word embarrassed folks.
So, when that tragic moment strikes, you feel for both characters and will them to get through it together. Not in a romantic sense, obviously, but in a refreshingly platonic way where you see two good people and want the best for them. It is very measured performances from the two that really help elevate an already great script.
Co-writers Morales and Duplass make sure to take great care with their characters and the overarching story to bring us a brilliantly effective film. This is a film that could easily have taken a light-hearted approach to its story. Instead, we hit some heavy moments, and when each one strikes, they devastate you. They are hard to watch and go through as the two characters try to navigate their way through the conversation. It also allows us to ask what we would do in such situations; do you keep talking, or do you let the person go through what they are seemingly on their own?
It is impossible not to recommend Language Lessons; it is a simple film done to absolute perfection, with two leads that you can only gravitate towards. A fantastic film that will surprise you by how invested you become and by how well it lands what could have been a difficult landing.
For more coverage of the 2021 London Film Festival, have a look below!
Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest
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