With the COVID-19 pandemic taking place all over the world, recent years have seen new innovative ways of filmmaking to accommodate the restrictions that came with. The result has seen an abundance of films released that utilise the use of screen recording where we see characters interact over social media and chat programs such as Skype and Zoom. Language Lessons is one such example and follows Adam (Mark Duplass), a man whose husband Will (Desean Terry) buys him 100 Spanish lessons with Cariño (Natalie Morales). The premise is simple but the result is anything but as the Spanish lessons serve as as introduction into deeper issues and a blossoming friendship between the two main characters.
Directed by Morales who cowrote the screenplay with Duplass, Language Lessons is clearly a film that the two were deeply passionate about and this comes across in how well they share the screen together. Morales’ direction is simple and yet manages to make the world of the film feel as though it is wider than viewing the characters’ computer screens. Morales does this by incorporating different locations for the characters to call from so the environment doesn’t become too familiar and there is always something different to talk about. The screenplay is written by both Morales and Duplass and it is clear that they have both delved deep into their characters to ensure that there is more to them that meets the eye. This is especially important given the limitations in how the film is shot and serves well to make sure that the characters have a well-developed backstory.
Mark Duplass delivers a great performance as Adam, showcasing his emotional range despite the short running time. What makes Duplass such a great fit for the role is his charisma and likeability which lends itself nicely to Adam’s character. We see Adam’s journey quickly take a turn for the worse following the sudden death of his husband but through his friendship with Cariño, he finds an outlet to express his emotions, good and bad, through the turbulent time. Adam’s character feels real because, despite his kindness, we are able to see his flaws, especially during heated discussions with Cariño.
In their role as Cariño, Natalie Morales is a great onscreen partner for Adam. Where Adam is an emotional character who wears his heart on his sleeve, Cariño is more reserved and guarded, even when the two begin to form a friendship. However, Morales is still able to showcase emotional range including the brilliant scene when Cariño is extremely drunk and calls Adam on his birthday where she begins to divulge personal and incriminating information about herself. It is up to Adam to put these pieces together and he still doesn’t know a lot about her. However, Morales’ performance is on that is unpredictable which makes the film so watchable and eager to know what will happen next.
What makes Language Lessons such an impactful film is its simplicity and allowing the characters’ relationship to naturally form in a way that feels genuine. Mixing comedy and drama, this film will have you laughing one minute and crying the next, taking the audience through a journey that feels authentic. Both charming and sincere, this is a film that shows the genuine nature of online connection and how it can build into a real life friendships.
Language Lessons is playing at this year’s London Film Festival!