In the opening scene of the new movie “Language Lessons,” Cariño, a Spanish teacher in Costa Rica, virtually meets her new client Adam, who lives in Oakland. Cariño is played by Natalie Morales, who also directed and co-wrote the movie, while Adam is played by her collaborator on the film, Mark Duplass.
It turns out Adam's husband Will bought the lessons — 100 of them — as a surprise gift.
Over the course of all those lessons, Adam and Cariño form a bond, connecting mostly in Spanish over a sudden tragedy.
Morales had an unusual debut as a director. Originally she was supposed to shoot her first movie, the R-rated teen comedy “Plan B,” in the spring of 2020. The film follows two high school friends, who after an unexpected night of partying, end up on a quest across South Dakota in search of the Plan B pill.
When that was shut down because of the pandemic, Morales came up with a real plan B — writing and directing “Language Lessons.” The result is that both of her “first” movies came out in 2021: “Plan B” on Hulu, and “Language Lessons” now in theaters.
Morales, who built up a career with acting credits on shows including “Parks and Recreation” and “The Grinder,” tells KCRW about the moves she made to set herself up to be a two-time feature filmmaker in one year. That included leaving her agents after they refused to consider her for directing jobs.
“Over a year went by and they did not set me up with anybody. I didn’t meet with a single person, and it was very clear that they only saw me as one thing,” Morales says. “And as terrifying as it was to leave a big agency as an actor, I knew I had to do it. Because those are literally the people representing you — the people who don’t believe you can do anything else? That’s not what I want.”
Morales also explains how she ended up interested in the entertainment industry in the first place — it’s a story involving a high school application mix-up that host Kim Masters says is worthy of its own movie.