Language Lessons (2021)

17 Nov

Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

I don’t often do this on my blog, because it’s more about other people’s films than my own, but I’m going to plug my short film “Cassandra.” It’s a 43-minute comedy-drama that takes place entirely through video-chat. I co-wrote and directed it and it can be seen on YouTube here.

What does this have to do with the film I’m reviewing, titled “Language Lessons?” Well, this film also tells its story through a webcam-perspective format and I was kind of jealous of it for that.

No joke–many times throughout “Language Lessons,” I kept thinking to myself, “Oh THAT’s how I was supposed to make our video-chat movie!” But at least now I can tell those who told me they couldn’t get through the first 8 minutes of “Cassandra” that there IS a way to do it. And this is that way.

I mean it; “Language Lessons” is one of my absolute favorite films of the year. I love this movie.

“Language Lessons” is, like I said, told entirely through webcam and focused on two characters played by Natalie Morales and Mark Duplass. (Morales also directed the film and co-wrote it with Duplass.) And it’s about a Spanish teacher (Morales) and her student (Duplass) who form a friendship over a long period of online Spanish lessons.

Mark Duplass is one of my favorite people working in the film industry, and this, I believe, is his very best work. Just when I think I’m going to get the Duplass I already know and love from his other works, such as Safety Not Guaranteed and Creep, he shows some heavy dramatic chops I didn’t even know he had. There’s a scene in which he’s coping with tragedy and he has an emotional breakdown in trying to figure out how to tell people about it–that was the moment I talked to the screen: “Dang, Mark, you should get an Indie Spirit Award nomination for this!”

Natalie Morales is a skillful director (and soon after watching this film, I checked out her other film, “Plan B,” available on Hulu–very good work there too) and a winning screen presence as a friendly soul who first teaches her student and then is there for support. She deserves Indie Spirit recognition as well, especially when we see more levels to her character late in the film.

Being a film centered on two people through virtuality, “Language Lessons” is a 90-minute conversation piece. Not only are the two people such appealing personalities that work off each other wonderfully, but the conversations they have are interesting to listen to (and watch, seeing as how those who don’t already know Spanish will need to read subtitles much of the time). That’s the reason I watch indie dramedies: to watch characters I care about go through life the best ways they know how.

“Language Lessons” is now available to rent/buy on-demand and will be available on DVD/Blu-Ray next month–and I highly recommend it.

Now…maybe I should start writing another webcam movie, huh?

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