LANGUAGE LESSONS – Review by Martha K Baker

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You know how Ted Lasso was exactly the series we needed to watch during the pandemic? Well, Language Lessons fits into that category, too, as it’s also about believing and healing, and it’s also funny and poignant and so well done. Credit goes entirely to writers and stars Mark Duplass and Natalie Morales. She directed the lovely little film.

Duplass plays Adam, whose filthy rich husband buys him 100 Spanish language lessons at an hour a week. His teacher is Cariño. She turns out to live in Costa Rica, but she has lived in Miami, and she speaks English quite well, thank you. Adam, too, speaks Spanish — the subtitles indicate his mistakes in quotes lest it appears that he is grammatically correct in his conversation.

Adam is surprised, but his husband has been guilty of pranking him before, so when he takes the call from Cariño, he waffles. “I’m a creature of habit,” he says, and apparently Spanish lessons on Monday mornings are not part of his routine. Cariño responds graciously, “I’d be happy to be part of your morning routing for the next two years.”

The first lesson includes an attempt to translate “mansplaining” from English to Spanish. After that lesson, a horrible incident occurs in Adam’s life. Cariño responds with the care her name implies. The two — student and teacher — begin a series of interactions that connect them in a time of trouble.

Duplass can play silly parts, and, here, his Adam is also heart-breaking. Morales brings dimension to Cariño, especially as an adorable drunk. Their acting, which ranges from being professional on Cariño’s part to being paternal on Adam’s, manifests the fine quality of their script. The film is organized by lesson, from No. 1 Immersion to No. 4 Grammar.

Morales’ direction makes excellent use of double screens on Zooming computers, of all the ambient sounds of Face-timing. The viewer becomes voyeur as these two people’s lives are laid bare and as their friendship forms. Language Lessons, a surprise treat, teaches about friendship in a time of loneliness and distance.

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Martha K. Baker (Archived Contributor)

I first taught film at Lakeland College in Wisconsin in 1969 and became a professional film reviewer in 1976 in St. Louis, Mo. Through the years, I have reviewed films for the St. Louis Business Journal, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Episcopal Life, and KWMU (NPR), among other outlets. I've reviewed at KDHX radio, my current outlet, for nearly 20 years.