Playing out entirely through phone and laptop screens, LANGUAGE LESSONS is a funny and heart-warming depiction of love and friendship in a virtually connected world.
After over 18 months of Zoom calls, Skype chats and virtual meetups, you’d be given for thinking that a film shot during the COVID-19 lockdown on phones and video calls isn’t top of your wish list. Yet Natalie Morales’ charming debut LANGUAGE LESSONS cunningly uses this unusual format to observe a life-changing friendship between a teacher and her student.
Written by co-stars Natalie Morales and Mark Duplass, LANGUAGE LESSONS follows Adam (Duplass), who is gifted weekly Spanish lessons with language teacher Cariño (Morales), by his husband Will (Desean Terry). Adam reluctantly agrees to take part, but neither teacher nor student is convinced it will last. However, when an unexpected tragedy strikes, the pair find themselves becoming each other’s lifelines, despite living in different countries and barely knowing one another.
Playing out entirely through phone and laptop screens, LANGUAGE LESSONS is a funny and heart-warming depiction of love and friendship in a virtually connected world. The sensitive script navigates the complexities of grief, loneliness and friendship, Adam’s sexual identity taking the romance out of this comedy early and is all the better for it.
Primarily shot on phone and computer cameras, this touching two-hander showcases Morales’ skills as an actor and as a director on the rise.
Morales and cinematographer Jeremy Mackie manage to make this more than just a static series of screens, playing with tone and scenery to convey what’s going on beneath the surface.
The decision to divide the film into thematic “lessons”, the language seamlessly switching back and forth between Spanish and English, also helps give the film structure and a discernible sense of time.
Mark Duplass delivers a tender performance as Adam, riding the character’s roller coaster of emotions as he struggles to put on a stable face for Cariño. His chemistry with Morales is effortless, and their sharp volleying exchanges make for some of the film’s best moments.
Morales is equally likeable and engaging as Cariño. In contrast to Duplass’s mobile face, Morales captures the moral dilemma as Adam’s teacher, her stillness and retrained passion drawing the audience in as she attempts to set and keep boundaries.
Yet, for all its charm, LANGUAGE LESSONS loses some of its edge when it forces a sense of melodrama towards the end of the film, leading to a bittersweet ending that feels slightly contrived and bizarrely rushed.
That said, this is an honest, warm and emotionally intricate watch with two heartfelt performances at its core.
LANGUAGE LESSONS screens at the BFI London Film Festival on 10 October 2021.
Donna is the Founder and Editor of Frankly, My Dear UK. By day, she works as a digital marketing specialist, by night she reviews film, theatre and music for a wide range of publications including WhatsonStage and The Reviews Hub. Loves Formula 1, prosecco and life.