Language Lessons [SXSW21]

Zoom movies are not good, or usually, they aren’t good. Too often, they feel cheap and mostly a gimmick. But sometimes, one comes along and just blows you away. That was Natalie Morales’ directorial debut Language Lessons. What could have felt like a gimmick movie turned out to be an emotional, funny and most importantly, a great film about platonic love. It might not be grandiose in terms of cinematography and setting but that doesn’t matter because at the core of it all is a story that everyone can relate to, one about finding your person in your darkest time. It isn’t groundbreaking but it doesn’t need to be because everything in it works together and creates a film that has you go from a laugh to a million tears over and over again.

When his husband buys him over a year worth of Spanish lessons, Adam (Room 104’s Mark Duplass) find himself forming a friendship with his teacher Cariño (Parks and Recreation’s Natalie Morales). It’s simple but it’s effective, the film knows what it is and never deviates from it. At the core of it all, is friendship and love. Platonic love is not explored enough in films, but it’s real, it exists. Language Lessons is a beautiful story about friendships, grief and love, one that is able to do all of this with simply two characters talking to each other from their computer, it isn’t easy and yet, we find ourself with one of those films that from start to finish just works.

We are seeing a wave of films that have been filmed during the pandemic, a thing that will be more and more common in the next year as films are released. Some will try and tackle the subject itself, something that I have found myself rolling my eyes to many times, others will try and do what Malcolm & Marie did, with a very limited cast and in a controlled setting, others will do like Language Lessons and use the pandemic and the limitation to create a film that might all take place over the internet. I haven’t found myself enjoyed what can be resumed as Zoom Movies. They too often are stuck in their setting and can’t get out of it, bound to it, often for the worst part, And yet, Language Lessons is able to break this. The only other example of a film in that kind of setting that worked was Searching and yet, they could not be more different one from another.

Sometimes you find your person in a time where you absolutely need them. Sometimes, the most important person in your life isn’t someone who shares your life with you, it doesn’t need to be romantic. Language Lessons is the prime example for that. Two of the most important people in my life are completely platonic love, they are the two person I rant two, I scream with, I laugh with. The people who affect me the most and complete me have nothing to do with romance. Language Lessons understand that. Adam and Cariño’s love is all about helping each other, their friendship is the most important thing in their life at that moment, even when they push each other away, they will always come back to each other. This is the kind of love that will stay with you forever, that changes you and helps you. A love story that is all about friendship is important to watch, because sometimes it might just be what you need in your life.

Natalie Morales directorial debut isn’t fancy but yet, it might be one of the best film of the year. One that knows exactly what it is and showcase that the director can do a lot with very little. It doesn’t need fancy cinematography or grandiose settings in order to make you feel everything. It’s a film that just does exactly what it needs in order to feel complete, it doesn’t let itself try and do anything fancy, instead focusing on the characters and their relationship. By doing so, we find a character study of grief and friendship. It’s an exercise in doing a lot with little and it works, one that shows that sometimes less is more. If Morales can do this with so little, I for one, can’t wait to see what she has in store for us.

Language Lessons being so small in term of scales work because it understands that the characters are the most important thing in its story. It doesn’t try to woo you with grandiose things, instead focusing on two human beings who find each other and become friends. It’s a story about what finding your person can do to you, that there’s more then one kind of love. A story that showcases that Duplass and Morales understand these characters and their chemistry makes this film a must watch. It’s a story about friendship, love and surviving, a story that we can all relate too, because sometime, the most important person in your life might come at the most unexpected time.