Adam (Mark Duplass) was given 100 Zoom Spanish lessons by his husband in 'Language Lessons.' (Photo courtesy Shout Factory!)

Language Lessons is The Magic I Am Here For

Language Lessons is The Magic I Am Here For
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You can watch Language Lessons at one of these great streaming locations:

Language Lessons is the Magic I Am Here For. Look, yes, I know that walking and talking, romantic digressions are my literal Achilles heel. I KNOW THAT. YOU DON’T HAVE TO TELL ME SUCH SIMPLE THINGS. GAH. @#$@#R@#$@.

In totally unrelated news… the movie Language Lessons is a pure joy. I kind of liked it. I mean, it was just okay. If you wanted to see it, that’d be fine. Or something. You could. If you thought of it, and you had nothing else going on. And you were really bored or something. It’d be fine if you just sort of, I don’t know, clicked one of those links up there. That’d be alright.

Let’s do this movie recommendation totally and completely differently.

Yes, I adore movies where people from different backgrounds sit and talk. I wish someone could hand me a comprehensive list of all of them that exist. The ones that are on your Super8 camera that you made back in college, that Australian film that was never published, and is sitting on that art school student’s hard drive. The indie film that your buddy published out to Vimeo that has been “watched” twelve times. I’m here for all of them.

A List Of Discursives

Let’s see, if we were to craft a list of movies in the school of thinking like Language Lessons, we have the big three of course. Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight. Those are my sun, moon, and stars in this particular genre. I recently had an argument with an extraordinarily well-opinioned individual about which trilogy was the best trilogy of all time. I was in the corner of Nolan’s Batman trilogy. He stood, well-positioned I might add, in the corner of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. We both went at each other with great gusto and little effect on the other. But then, in a moment of brilliance, side-stepped the argument all together, and I said that I would instead take up the Before trilogy as a different alternative as the best trilogy of all time. And this was so startlingly different, that he gave me a pass until he watched them! hahaha. But what else? What others would be well positioned in this genre of film?

Maybe something like: Once, Portrait of a Lady on Fire, A Ghost Story, Her – (I know that I did a write up on it… but literally can’t find it), The Lobster… NO! While these technically meet the definition of the genre… maybe… they aren’t right. The movies that I am talking about here are Columbus. YES! That’s the specific genre. They don’t have to be in love… they just have to care about each other. And Comet! Maybe, to a lesser degree The One I Love? (It has Duplass in it, sure, but it also has a copy of themselves, so it sort of breaks the rule? Certified Copy is DECIDEDLY in this bucket, if a bit more complicated than the standard Before Sunrise fare. Maybe Tape would fit here? though I’m not thinking it fits. Can you guys find me more movies like this? Please?

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A Discursive Conversation About Language Lessons

This movie is a simple story about friendships, and barriers, and openness. It’s a story about white privilege, and assumptions. It’s a story about vulnerability. And it’s ultimately, strangely enough, a story about love.

The movie tells the story of Will, and Adam. A married couple where Will has purchased a hundred language lessons for Adam. Because Adam wants to brush up on his Spanish. Okay. But right after the first lesson, Will dies. Hit by a car while jogging. So the first half of the film is about Adam. His grief. And the meaning and purpose of life. Or at least, the meaning and purpose of life from a decidedly well-off vantage.

Then when things flip, and we find out that Cariño has been beaten up, things spin wildly out of control. The stability that has been artificially established, centering around Adam, has been vanquished. And now he is concerned and confused about his new found friend. Obviously he constructs a narrative around her life… a story about her ex-husband, and the abuse she faces at his hand. And he is desperate to save the day. It’s a tale as old as time. But the interesting switch of the movie is that Cariño isn’t being beaten by her ex. She hasn’t been stalked by a violent person on the violent streets of Costa Rica. Or whatever. Instead, we learn, that she was drunk, and in a bar fight with another woman.

But ultimately we learn that Cariño has found a lump, and that she’s sure that she will die the same way that her mother died, and her grandmother before her. And that is just the way it is going to go. We also learn she is being forced to move for some reason. Cariño tells Adam that she has to stop. That she can’t go on with the lessons. That she can’t do this anymore. Adam allows her to go, but then sends her money to come join him at his house. That he wants to provide for her, to help in whatever way that he can.

To say that I saw the ending coming would be the world’s worst understatement. Couldn’t physically happen with his first message, but I knew the moment he created “one last message,” that he’d sent the money, etc., etc… she was walking up those stairs. Like. I didn’t even watch him, I was watching the windows, the door, the walkway… and, Cariño. Voila.

Thoughts on the Movie Language Lessons

It’s not Oscar worthy. This is a true statement. But I found it enjoyable. The key here being this idea of Platonic Love. Obviously Adam is gay. Cariño is a girl. Voila… platonic-ness. Right? But I don’t think that really mattered much here. It’s one human being caring for another human being… and another human caring in return. I would argue it was Cariño who kicked off the love-fest by just caring that Adam is okay. She was the first person to talk to him after Will’s death. She stayed with him, made sure he was okay… hell, she even sang him to sleep! hahah. It’s a touching round of interactions.

This idea of white-guilt though complicates this movie significantly. Made it interesting, but also forced the ending to juke, and then un-juke a bit. Here’s what I mean… Adam created a narrative in his head about Cariño, that she was a delicate soul, an angel, that was being beaten by an ex, and he needed to save her. Okay. So, from a screenplay standpoint, they had to two-step out of this conundrum. It couldn’t be the ex that beat her. It had to be some other explanation. Got it. So the answer? She got drunk, and got into a bar fight. Uh, okay. Obviously the bike excuse wasn’t real. I guess the bar fight could work? Personally, I would have gone with a loan shark, and kicked off a Get Shorty sort of a run with it! hahah. JK. I don’t know what I would have done that would have flown naturally with the character and the story. We do know she drinks a little… but she seemed like a sweet drunk… not much of an angry drunk. So it smacked a little thin to me. But I’ll give the movie a pass on that front.

The bigger problem I had was the ending. And we know from this conversation that Mark Duplass and Natalie Morales had with SXSW that they had the beginning, and the end if the story… but not the middle:

(For the record… the single best SXSW talk ever given was by Mark Duplass on movie making… and you can watch it right here.) So we, ostensibly, know that Mark probably had an idea… about a relationship that grows between a Spanish teacher, and a newly grieving widower. Right? And a large part of their relationship is pushing back against stereotypes, etc. But Adam is OBVIOUSLY rich as all get out. He lives in a massive house in Oakland. So, yeah. He’s as rich as Midas. Which just instantly creates an immediate conversation around White Privilege, White Guilt, White Savior Complexes… etc., etc., etc. It’s flipping complicated. And yes, the film dives into that a bit. Assumptions. Expectations. Then there is also the reverse problems there as well. White Guilt Hate? White Savior Hatred? You know?

I could write a doctoral thesis about these topics. Having flown around the world, literally, several times, and visited people in their homes in some of the poorest of the poor locations on the planet. (One story I’ve told here before, is a “house” I visited in Manila. They walked me up the stairway on the side of a building, and then they just stopped on a platform between stairs, and told me they lived there. I was like, but where is your bed? Where do you do your food? How do you all fit here? And she showed how her family squeezed up against the wall together at night, and showed me her Bunsen burner type device upon which they made their food. I literally left my team with her, and just went out into the rain and cried. Just blew my mind.) And this is 100% complicated, all the complications.

Can a person have more than his fair share? Can one person have too much? Should those that have “extra” share? How does one do this sort of “sharing”? Hell, just yesterday, Elon Musk just said he’d sell 6b in stock in order to fight world hunger. All he wants is that the spending transcripts would get open sourced. Which is fantastic. But should he even make those demands? It’s all very complicated.

My issue though with the ending is Cariño’s just showing up at the house. Did the movie do the heavy lifting necessary to make that make sense?? I don’t know. I was once visiting a child in the hills of Lima Peru, and there were shacks all around me. And I was sort of surrounded. I was there to bring gifts to the family, some food, school supplies, etc. But the “neighborhood” people, just got really edgy about my being there. They started saying things like, “For $10, I’ll show you my house too.” “$20 for a photo.” My translator didn’t even need to translate, I know enough Spanish to have understood the point these folks were making. And they aren’t wrong, right? It’s really, really, complicated.

Final Thoughts

But I loved the movie all the same! Even the chaos of rich people vs. poor people. That might have even made the movie even more interesting… right? Whether you agree or disagree, doesn’t really matter. The spice of it makes it even more interesting. But both of these people are just compelling, very interesting characters… an enjoyable mix.

Edited by: CY