LANGUAGE LESSONS

Sometimes it seems like the right person walks into your life just a moment before you need them. You don’t know it at the time, but when you look back, it almost feels scripted.

That’s one of the pleasures of Language Lessons, a new drama about two people learning to communicate in a language all of their own.

Well, Spanish officially, but before we get there, meet Adam (Mark Duplass). He is turning 45, and his husband, Will (Desean Terry), thinks it would be a great idea to sign Adam up for weekly Spanish lessons via Zoom—one hundred lessons in all with Cariño (Natalie Morales). Lucky for her, she won’t have to work too hard because A) Adam’s Spanish is serviceable, and B) Adam’s a real Chatty Cathy. He might be the only foreign language student out there who could talk himself into fluency.

But then, tragedy strikes. I won’t give away what, but it’s worth noting that the information comes 10 minutes into the movie, and what follows is both informed by this moment or at least circles its hollow blackness.

So what do Adam and Cariño do? They talk. Sometimes to each other, sometimes to themselves. At one point, Cariño decides she doesn’t want to talk, so Adam talks enough for the both of them. Will signed Adam up for 100 lessons, but Cariño only gives him about five. The rest are extra credit.

Directed by Morales and written by Morales and Duplass, Language Lessons feels like a movie that shouldn’t work but does. It’s an emotional powerhouse, the kind that takes you on a rollercoaster of ups and downs despite the static framing of each shot. Credit goes to Morales and Duplass as performers and to cinematographer Jeremy Mackie, who takes the limitation of a laptop camera/screen and turns it into an unbalanced frame that is positively gripping. The mind reels with possibilities anytime a staircase, a doorframe, or a hallway appear over Adam or Cariño’s shoulders.

Language Lessons is outstanding. It’s a movie Robert Bresson would have dug if he were around to see it. Hell, if Bresson were alive with this amount of technology at his fingertips, he might have made Language Lessons. Then again, there’s no way that movie would have had this much heart. Guess I’ll take this version and be damn happy to have it.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Language Lessons (2021)
Directed by Natalie Morales
Screenplay by Mark Duplass, Natalie Morales
Produced by Mel Eslyn
Starring: Mark Duplass, Natalie Morales, Desean Terry
Shout Studios, Not rated, Running time 91 minutes, Opens Sept. 10, 2021.