Language Lessons is a poignant tale of a burgeoning friendship across seas and devices starring Natalie Morales and Mark Duplass.
Adam (Duplass) is gifted a year’s worth of Spanish lessons from his partner and instantly develops a friendship with his teacher, Cariño (Morales). The pair’s bond grows deeper over the days, weeks and months after Adam suffers a tragedy.
Featuring only two cast members, Language Lessons relies on the chemistry between its leads to drive the narrative forward and keep the audience invested. Thankfully, Natalie Morales and Mark Duplass complement each other so well that this small narrative feature is gripping from start to end. There’s something intrinsically relatable about seeing two people form a friendship through computer screens, with nothing but charm and personality to develop and strengthen the bond between people so far away from each other.
The pair discuss life, love, and tragedy throughout their friendship and help each other through the good times and bad. Like all friendships, there are ups and downs, and occasionally barriers are crossed, but the bond prevails. There’s nothing more to this film, but it’s plenty enough to be a fly on the wall during these personal interactions and become invested in the lives of these characters. You begin to feel like you know them after a short while, essentially becoming the third friend in the narrative, albeit the nosy, eavesdropping friend. It’s OK, however, as director Natalie Morales has invited you in to observe.
It’s a testament to the creative talents of Morales and Duplass (who produces the film and co-writes alongside Morales) to be able to draw you into these character’s worlds with such minimal production value and narrative elements. Duplass has mastered this aspect of minimalistic narrative filmmaking that focuses on relationships and character studies, with the likes of Creep (2014) and Your Sister’s Sister (2011) as excellent examples of prior works.
Language Lessons serves as a reminder to keep in touch with your friends and loved ones when you can’t be physically near them and check in on their mental and emotional states. The film shows that being a friend is sometimes what a person needs in times of stress and struggle.
Director and star Natalie Morales won the Narrative Spotlight Audience Award at the SXSW Film Festival in 2021 for her work on Language Lessons.