Review: Language Lessons

Written and directed by Natalie Morales, co-written by Mark Duplass, the only two stars of the film, a Spanish teacher and her student develop an unexpected friendship.

It would be fair enough if the idea of a film made entirely on Zoom put you off but fight through it and you will be handsomely rewarded. Natalie Morales and Mark Duplass start off their story with such a casual, cute tone which puts you deceptively at ease before it punches you right in the gut. What follows is one of the most intensely human stories, delving into practically every relatable emotion. Duplass’s Adam goes through loss, grief, pain and the struggle to return to everyday living while Morales’s Cariño has a classic avoidance of emotion and trust, trying to protect herself. The two have the most charming connection which is then harshly tested and pushes the film to the point of being hard to watch at times. The root of that is how genuine and sincere the story feels, it pulls you deeply into this blooming friendship so when things get tense, you feel it very strongly. It’s a film which you can’t quite adequately put into words, but Morales and Duplass have created something incredibly special.

Watching these two at work is an absolute pleasure, they’re superb indie filmmakers and actors. Natalie Morales and Mark Duplass have an effortless connection, which comes through even while never in the same room, which is no easy feat. They each bring extremely different characters and yet share a touching humility. There’s an intense amount of emotion running throughout this story and they both tackle that beautifully. Morales is a quadruple threat here, writing, directing, producing and acting but she does every job to perfection. She portrays Cariño as a strong, intelligent and wonderful woman, who keeps herself at arm’s length and needs someone to break down that wall. Duplass as Adam on the other hand is open, honest, generous and in need of a supportive ear to guide him through one of the toughest times in life. The performances get all the more credit for being so utterly restricted by the format, yet they lose absolutely nothing because of it.

It goes for realism strongly throughout with both its story and its visual quality. It has the typical range from clear to pixelated you’ll find on any video call. It speaks to the quality of Morales’ direction and Aleshka Ferrero’s editing that the video set-up never falters in holding your attention. They manage to capture a strong, charismatic energy and wholesome atmosphere which keeps you unfalteringly glued to the screen. Its simple set-up means that there are zero distractions from this sweet, moving and terrifically real story.

Language Lessons is clever, funny, touching and intensely relatable. It soars beyond any expectations and creates something beautiful out of such restrictive circumstances. Morales and Duplass are the absolute perfect duo, they stand for everything that’s great about independent film and both give brilliant performances. It’s a bittersweet experience, and is just as heart-warming as it is heart-breaking.

Verdict: ✯✯✯✯✯

Reviewed as part of London Film Festival 2021

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