In times of a global pandemic, the film industry necessarily has to adapt. Productions face greater hurdles than before, and while these surely seem insurmountable to some, they inspire others to find loopholes to continue their creative endeavours.

Natalie Morales’ Language Lessons is clearly a product of current events: focused on online conversations, the characters Cariño (Morales) and Adam (Mark Duplass) only ever meet through screens – an all-too-familiar routine for anyone working from home during the past year. Yet the film gains a sense of timelessness and levity by strictly avoiding any mention of the virus.

Instead, the script, written by Morales and Duplass themselves, focuses on quirky bilingual dialog and the screen-on-screen chemistry between the two actors as the online Spanish lessons (which also structure the film into chapters) commence. Language Lessons thrives in the initial banter between teacher Cariño and her student Adam, caught off-guard by the surprise present of the lessons. Almost immediately, however, Adam’s situation changes drastically when his husband dies as a result of an accident. Cariño becomes an unexpected lifeline to him, a steady presence who slowly and steadily talks to him in Spanish as he processes his grief.

The teacher-student relationship soon blossoms into something more intimate, but the limitations of the online-only interactions are clear. Cariño’s life remains largely a mystery to Adam – and when she shows up on screen with fresh bruises before withdrawing unexpectedly, he begins to fill the gaps with his own narratives. It’s here the film loses in strength, getting caught up in increasingly contrived plot twists that ultimately feel unsatisfying.

A charming small-scale production made to be viewed on a laptop screen, Language Lessons is still an admirable feat, successfully highlighting the importance of emotional connections above anything else.



CAST: Natalie Morales, Mark Duplass, Desean Terry

DIRECTOR: Natalie Morales

WRITERS: Natalie Morales, Mark Duplass

SYNOPSIS: A Spanish teacher and her student develop an unexpected friendship.