By Richard Ades
When a Costa Rican woman unexpectedly appears on Adam’s computer screen one morning, she’s there to give the Oakland resident a Spanish lesson. Before long, however, she’s called on to throw him a lifeline.
That’s the setup for Language Lessons, a warm-hearted film directed by Natalie Morales from a story she co-wrote and stars in with Mark Duplass.
As it turns out, Adam’s wealthy husband has hired Carino (Morales) to help Adam (Duplass) brush up on the Spanish he learned as a child. The two agree to meet each Monday morning via Zoom, but tragedy disrupts their plans. Logging in for the second lesson, Carino finds Adam lying in bed and barely able to communicate. It’s only after a minute or two of dazed confusion that he reveals his husband was killed in an overnight traffic accident.
Since Adam is obviously suffering from shock and a lack of sleep, Carino does what she can to calm him down. Then, because he seems to be alone with his grief, she leaves several messages over the next few days in an attempt to be supportive. Thus begins a long-distance relationship—perhaps even a friendship—that is put to the test when Carino becomes the one in need of support.
Up until that point, Language Lessons sometimes verges on treacly, especially when Gaby Moreno’s soundtrack needlessly underscores the characters’ emotions. But when Carino undergoes a concerning change and Adam attempts to find out what’s wrong and offer assistance, things get more interesting. Sexual, economic and ethnic differences all play a role in complicating the situation.
Photographed entirely as a series of computer screen images, the film easily tells its story without violating any COVID protocols. Perhaps writers Morales and Duplass could have done a better job of fleshing out the characters, but as actors they make up for it with soulful performances. Morales is especially interesting as the enigmatic Carino, while Duplass plays Adam as someone who wears his heart permanently attached to his sleeve.
Like Together Together, which came out in the spring, Language Lessons shows that platonic love between a man and a woman can be just as challenging as the romantic kind. And, as a cinematic subject, just as interesting.
Rating: 3½ stars (out of 5)
Language Lessons opens Sept. 10 at select theaters nationwide, including Central Ohio’s Gateway Film Center.