Posts Tagged ‘Mark Duplass’

Mark Duplass, Natalie Morales

“LANGUAGE LESSONS” My rating: B+ (In theaters)

91 minutes | No MPAA rating

Adversity is good for filmmakers. The old Hollywood Production Code may have been a censorious pain in the ass, but in working around it creative moviemakers expanded the limits of cinema.

The COVID pandemic seems to have done the same thing in the case of “Language Lessons,” a ridiculously simple premise that, by stripping filmmaking down to its essentials, finds depths of humanity and emotion that usually get lost in the technical shuffle.

Written by and starring Natalie Morales and Mark Duplass, and directed by Morales, this two-hander is simplicity itself, unfolding in a series of Zoom and/or Skype/Facetime calls.

The entire picture unfolds through the cameras built into cell phones, iPads and computers. There’s little in the way of editing; mostly we log on and stick with a conversation for several uninterrupted minutes.

Here’s the setup: Adam (Duplass) has been given a year’s worth of weekly online Spanish lessons by his spouse Will (DeSean Terry, heard briefly but never seen). The teacher is Carino (Morales), who lives in Costa Rica and speaks perfect English, though she insists on Adam conversing almost exclusively in Spanish. How else is this lazy guy gonna learn?

Right off the bat we sense a lot about these two. Adam and Will live in Oakland in a nice house with a big swimming pool and a ton of trendy art. Will runs a dance company (apparently it pays really well); Adam appears to be something of a kept man.

Carino, on the other hand, lives modestly. Unlike the chatty Adam, she’s reluctant to share too much. Wouldn’t be professional.

Thing is, professionalism only goes so far. Early in the film tragedy befalls Adam and Carino finds herself giving a lot more than just language lessons. She is forced into the position of counselor and therapist. And more even than that.

Given the physical limitations of the production one might expect “Language Lessons” to quickly wear out its welcome. If anything, we’re sucked ever deeper into these two personalities and their respective issues.

Also, thanks to modern technology, we can remain on line while cruising the city streets or exploring a jungle stream, so this is not the static experience you might expect.

Moreover, Morales and Duplass turn in spectacularly good performances…seemingly without breaking a sweat.

On an emotional level “Language Lessons” is a workout, a study of the growing friendship of two dissimilar individuals and the ability of the human connection to span thousands of miles. Smart viewers will have a box of tissues close at hand.

| Robert W. Butler

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The outcasts of Table 19 The outcasts of Table 19 (left to right):

The outcasts of Table 19 (left to right): Lisa Kudrow, Craig Robinson, June Squibb, Stephen Merchant, Anna Kendrick, Tony Revolori

“TABLE 19”  My rating: B-

90 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

If you can get past a few improbabilities (not difficult, given the solid cast), “Table 19” offers a sneakily compelling blend of farce and realism.

The setup could have been pulled from almost any TV sitcom: Six individuals have been invited to a wedding but at the reception find themselves seated at the furthest table from the action. It’s pretty clear that they’ve been assigned to wedding Siberia.

Our protagonist is Eloise (Anna Kendrick, who has the knack of making a crying scene both touching and hilarious). Until  two months ago she was the designated maid of honor and the long-time squeeze of the bride’s brother, Teddy (Wyatt Russell).

But Teddy dumped her (via email, for crissakes) and now, after retreating into a funk, Eloise has shown up to claim her seat — at far-flung Table 19.

Her fellow exiles include a bickering couple (Lisa Kudrow, Craig Robinson) who are only there because of a distant business connection with the bride’s father; the bride’s former nanny (June Squibb); the groom’s socially inept cousin (Stephen Merchant), a former jailbird (for embezzlement) now living in a halfway house; and a teen dweeb (Tony Revolori…he was the bellboy in “Grand Budapest Hotel”) desperate to lose his virginity in what he has been told is the sexually-charged atmosphere of a wedding party.

“Table 19” works not only because of the deliciously droll performances, but because director Jeffrey Blintz (who hit the documentary sweet spot with 2002’s “Spellbound” before turning to TV’s “The Office”) and co-writers Jay and Mark Duplass (“The Puffy Chair,” “Baghead,” “Jeff, Who Lives at Home,” HBO’s “Togetherness”) are so sneaky about giving us broadly comic characters and then methodically revealing the humans underneath.

The film sets us up to expect standard-issue plot developments, then yanks out the rug with unexpected twists and character issues.

Don’t want to build up “Table 19” too much…its pleasures are modest ones. Yet  the ability to leave audiences hovering somewhere between a snort and a sob should not be dismissed.

Especially in the armpit months of the film release calendar.

| Robert W. Butler

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