Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Oct 25, 2021 5:16 pm 
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Trying to be human in a computerized world

From Letterboxd, this heartfelt response to the film:" I’m not one for “quarantine films” but LANGUAGE LESSONS is a rom-com that perfectly transcends that genre trapping, offering something sweet & endearing that will outlive this era we’re all living through. The chemistry between Natalie Morales & Mark Duplass is so infectious it melted my cynical heart & made me a believer in the power of human connection again. Loved it!"

From the unusually straightforward and clear review in the (aptly named?) Film Forward by Ben Wasserman: "Language Lessons, starring and co-written by Morales and Mark Duplass, is a two-hander about the long-distance friendship between a teacher and student in the wake of a personal tragedy. The gimmick: all of their interactions are done through Zoom calls and Facetime messages. The charming leads guide us through this period of healing while making the journey feel as valid as any grand adventure."

The reason this setup occurs is that Duplass' character has been presented with the birthday gift of $1,000 worth of 100 online weekly Spanish lessons from Costa Rica. As this implies, the gay hubby, head of a famous Oakland, California dance troop, is well off, a condition Duplass himself is uneasy with, having come from modest circumstances into this union only a year before. But he'd expressed a desire to renew his Spanish, which really exists since he spent some time in Mexico in his youth. (According to Yolanda Machada, the Spanish-speaking writer who reviewed this film for The Wrap, Morales' accent in Spanish doesn't gibe with her character's identification as born in Cuba and living in Costa Rica. She speaks English - a lot - with a totally American Accent. The images of her giving lessons on Zoom float out in space on the screen, with no specific location. We are required to provide some suspension of disbelief. Found footage movies, which this roughly is, always require a healthy sampling of that.)

Much must be made by a reviewer of the format. It is not explicitly related to the COVID pandemic, an omission that may extend the movie's shelf-life, and is more a general allusion to how much life in general grows increasingly electronic. It is about how a friendship can bloom despite such limitations. This is no different from how, in the dim past once, a man and a woman (or for that matter two of the same sex) could fall in love through a prolonged exchange of letters.

Note: this is an affectionately gay story (and has shown at many gay fests). Adam (Mark Duplass) rapturously describes his suddenly deceased mate Will (Desean Terry). The relationship was idyllic even though Adam has also told Cariño (Natalie Morales) initially that their wealthy, idle lifestyle seemed unnatural to him. But while Adam's sudden loss is what deepens his "language lessons" relationship with Cariño, ultimately the focus is on the two of them.

Things become interesting when Cariño starts pulling away and setting up barriers against Adam's warmth, and we wonder why. This mystery carries the short film through to its sweet, dramatically effective conclusion. Cariño's resistance is powerless against the megawatt humanity Mark Duplass impressively radiates in a series of heartfelt little monologues that must be some of his career best as an actor. And since the screenplay is a collaboration between him and Morales, he performs memorably in that area here too.Language Lessons feels awkward at times, but ultimately the resistance dissolves in the sweetness: it's irresistible.

Language Lessons, 91 mins., debuted at the Berlinale Mar. 1, 2021; it also showed virtually in Mar. at Austin (SXSW) and May at InsideOut LGBT festival (Toronto), showing later at Provincetown, Frameline (San Francisco), Outfest (LA), Melbourne, Hong Kong LGBT fest, London BFI, and AMFEST (Moscow). US release by Shout Studios Sept. 10, 2021. Online digital and on demand release: Tues., Oct. 26, 2021. Metascore: 68%.

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