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Friendship is created in many forms. Sometimes it’s out of common interests, or a friend of a friend. In the story of Language Lessons, it’s developed out of a tragedy and spread out over two countries between two strangers with vastly different backgrounds. What comes isn’t just Spanish lessons, but a movie about vulnerability and understanding.
Director: Natalie Morales
Release date: March 17, 2021 (SXSW)
Rating: Not yet rated
While this isn’t a pandemic movie per se, it’s entirely done through Zoom-like calls and back-and-forth video messages. In the film, Adam (Mark Duplass) is gifted a hundred weekly Spanish lessons by his husband, Will (Desean Kevin Terry), as a surprise. The teacher, Cariño (Natalie Morales), begins their Spanish lessons from afar in Costa Rica. As she discovers, Adam actually speaks Spanish rather well, and the two develop a rapport off the bat.
As she dials in for their second lesson, she learns from Adam that Will had died the night before. As Adam paces, rattling off all the things he doesn’t know how to do or handle because Will took care of it, Cariño reacts with empathy and kindness, helping to reel Adam in. As the events of the film move on, Adam becomes dependent on Cariño not only as a friend but as an impromptu therapist. Sometimes they chat directly to each other, other times they leave messages back and forth, and Cariño’s suggestions on homework and other activities help keep Adam from spiraling into despair.
There’s a point where the friendship is strained because of a conversation that led to Cariño opining that Adam has a white savior complex and that she doesn’t need his help. In the moment, it’s easy to see her point. She’s seen various parts of his great big house, the temperature-controlled pool, and an in-house sauna. He implores that’s not his intent, and that he considers her a friend and wants to help. They both put themselves in vulnerable positions throughout, something that comes across as easier to do given not only the circumstances around Will’s death, but knowing they’re thousands of miles away and communicating through a screen.
Language Lessons is a rom-com where the romance is replaced by a deep level friendship borne of loss. It has its funny moments, like when the two send messages back and forth making faces and Cariño substitutes herself for a Sharpie-faced potato. For a film that really only has two characters, its emotional chemistry between Duplass and Morales is felt across all levels. Whether they’re laughing about Adam’s misuse of “embarazado” or the conversation takes a quick turn and Cariño shuts down on sharing, the conversations feel real and genuine. It takes the typical student/teacher trope and flips it into something more meaningful, and while some may be sick of video calls, the film makes good use of the tool for two people to connect on different levels and provide an ultimately positive ending.