LANGUAGE LESSONS – Review by Susan Wloszczyna

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At a time when so much of our country is filled with divisive politics and ugly, stupid and false rhetoric while selfish anti-vaxers and anti-maskers refuse to do the right thing, here comes along a charming balm of a two-hander in the form of director Natalie Morales’s Language Lessons, which she wrote with her co-star, Mark Duplass. It provides a perfect oasis of sorts from all the pain and agony of the news headlines of late. It also might be the best Zoom meeting you will ever experience as well.

It also subtlety captures the disquieting mood of the COVID pandemic, without actually referring to it. The set-up? Duplass plays Adam, a middle-ager married to Will while basking in privilege and wealth in his Oakland dream home, complete with a pool that features both cold and warm water spaces. Will, who oversees a dance company, decides to buy 100 weekly Spanish lessons for a thousand dollars for his partner’s birthday. That is where Morales comes in as Adam’s teacher Carino.

It turns out that he is somewhat fluent in the language already, having studied Spanish in school, although if he stumbles at times. She was born in Cuba and lived in Miami for a time. At the moment, Carino is ensconced in Costa Rica and her sessions with Adam are done online. At first, teacher and student test each other out. Meanwhile, Adam endears himself to her as he confuses the Spanish word for embarrassed with “embarazado,” which means he is pregnant, causing Carino to burst out laughing. The pair quickly form an easy and genuine rapport with each other. At one point, they trade references from Dirty Dancing in Spanish as she explains her nickname means “affection,” adding “just like Baby was Baby in the movie.” He jokingly adds in Spanish that “You carried a watermelon.”

But when Adam’s suddenly suffers a terrible loss, Carino becomes more of a shrink and a confident than just a teacher, even checking out Adam’s social media accounts. She shares the fact that both her mother and grandmother are no longer alive and that she is divorced from her husband. But during a one late-night Zoom session, she shows up drunk, with bruises on her face and eventually shares some scary news with her student.

The ending is a little too on the nose for its own good and, oddly, the teaching eventually takes a backseat to what is going on in both of their lives. Meanwhile, as a director, Morales includes the blips and glitches that happen during such computer calls while nicely contrasting the backdrops in both locales. There is even time for a couple musical interludes.

But the greatest contribution to this tale is her own warm and charming personality as Morales never lets the humorous moments upstage the genuine humanity and caring that she and Duplass present onscreen. An odd couple they may be, but Adam sounds sincere as he thanks Carino “for showing me that people can connect across time zones and languages.”

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Susan Wloszczyna

In her nearly 30 years at USA Today, Susan Wloszczyna interviewed everyone from Vincent Price and Shirley Temple to Julia Roberts and Will Smith. Her coverage specialties include animation, musicals, comedies and any film starring Hayley Mills, Sandy Dennis or hobbits. Her crowning career achievements so far, besides having Terence Stamp place his bare feet in her lap during an interview for The Limey, is convincing the paper to send her to New Zealand twice for set visits, once for The Return of the King and the other for The Chronicles of Narnia and King Kong, and getting to be a zombie extra and interview George Romero in makeup on the set for Land of the Dead. Though not impressive enough for Pulitzer consideration, she also can be blamed for coining the moniker "Frat Pack," often used to describe the comedy clique that includes Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Will Ferrell. Her positions have included Life section copy desk chief for four years and a film reviewer for 12 years. She is currently a contributor for the online awards site Gold Derby and is an Oscar expert for Previously, she has been a freelance film reporter and critic, contributing regularly to, MPAA’s The Credits, the Washington Post, AARP The Magazine online and Indiewire as well as being a book reviewer for The Buffalo News. She previously worked as a feature editor at the Niagara Gazette in Niagara Falls, N.Y. A Buffalo native, she earned her bachelor's degree in English at Canisius College and a master's degree in journalism from Syracuse University.