Two people from across different continents use webcams to build a beautiful friendship rooted in understanding each other, both linguistically and emotionally in Language Lessons. Natalie Morales directs, co-writes, and stars alongside Mark Duplass in a film that is both incredibly simple in production execution and completely captivating through its narrative and strong performances.
This is the first work I have seen to utilize a webcam presentation cohesively that feels real and not just a production restraint. After a year of staying in the house and only seeing my friends through the computer screen I am currently using to write this review, it wasn’t hard to see the parallels.
The film doesn’t interact with the very real epidemic we are living through in our world but instead uses the boundaries of trauma and emotional barriers that keep people from connecting to each other. The movie starts as Adam, played by Duplass, receives a surprise gift of a hundred Spanish lessons from his husband, Will. Morales plays Cariño, his Spanish teacher who lives in Costa Rica, as their relationship evolves from just student and teacher to close friends after a tragedy strikes, leaving them both lost and unsure of where to go.
I can see how this may feel very limited in detail, which is not normally not seen in my other reviews, but I assure you it is a necessary action to allow the events of the film to wash over you like it did me. The simple set up for its story allows both actors to really embody their characters in the most human way I have seen in recent memory. Duplass portrays Adam as a lovable caring person who is over his head in a lot of things, but letting his feelings be known. Morales stands out in her performance of Cariño, with her strong personality and brief moments of vulnerability. The small webcam set up provides creative and inventive ways to show these characters in their most human moments. Whether that is showing more of the living space they inhabit and what they hold dear without ever having to describe it or the close up to their facial reaction whenever something is aid. These characters feel alive and honest through the performance and it’s filming.
Another incredible feet is the production design of the film itself. As I stated earlier, the main constraint of the film is only using webcam and occasional cell phone footage. Normally this would feel a bit boring to me and less creative but in Language Lessons it feels like you are in their homes. Each location the characters talk from feel right for the moment. Sound is minimal to keep the feeling of it being just a two average individuals interacting with each other and trying to find their footing in their relationship.
This is where I believe this movie succeeds where several others fail when making a “found footage” like film and film in general. The world Morales directs in this film feels incredibly livable in the way humans actually live. Every shot, change in scenery, walk around the room, obscure angle, rushed sentence, or stumble feel like you are watching two average people living through a pain that they want to talk about, but are unsure how to approach. A stand out moment is a scene where Cariño called Adam drunk to sing for his birthday super late at night forgetting the time difference. It’s a small human moment in a world where I have received that call and been that call for other people. Thats what makes this so beautiful.
After a year and a half of a pandemic that has made it hard for me to see friends in person and only through a screen, seeing a film that not only is able to take this experience and make it relatable but also a hopeful outlook of making it through tragedy with the help of those who are closest to you, Language Lessons is a lesson I hope to take with me for the rest of my life.