Lingua Franca: Review. By Alif Majeed.
Opposites attracting onscreen has always been excellent cinematic fodder. Especially if they are opposites who are two broken but kindred souls struggling in their lives. Lingua Franca seems to take two characters who have been created by following the fractured soul’s rulebook and injecting as much drama as possible. But somewhere down the line, the director has managed to give them enough personality that you end up caring about what happens to them.
Lingua Franca’s main USP has to be its lead character. Isabel Sandoval, who is also the director of the movie, portrays Olivia, a local caregiver in a Brooklyn neighborhood of an elderly Russian woman Olivia. As she is looking for companionship while trying to find a suitable person to marry for a green card, she pips the interest of Olivia’s grandson, Alex (Eamon Farren).
Things are going well enough between them until Alex realizes that Olivia is a trans woman. How the two of them deal with the realization and if they get together is what drives the movie.
The struggles of an undocumented immigrant struggling to make ends meet and looking out for a green card are portrayed rather well. What makes it even more poignant is Isabel’s portrayal as the trans woman Olivia who has become so pragmatic about her situation that she would refuse to give love a chance even when staring right at her.
It almost reminds you of Ramin Bahrani’s brilliant Man Push Cart, another movie that subtlety portrays the struggles of an immigrant who can’t catch a break. It is equally heartbreaking seeing Olivia struggling to silently work towards her dream while silently suffering the heartbreaks she faces getting there.
Eamon Farren is also perfect as Alex, as his reactions seem perfectly natural as he realizes that the woman he loves is a trans woman and could end up being the butt of jokes among his friends.
Lev Gorn (The Americans) makes an impact as Alex’s uncle who gives him work and cares about his nephew enough to hope he doesn’t screw up while begrudgingly spews venom on him whenever he meets Alex. Also excellent is Lynn Cohen as Alex’s grandmother, who is also a mute spectator to Alex and Olivia’s relationship.
Sadly the ending feels like a cop-out as the director keeps it predictably ambiguous. The movie takes a while to get going. And when we finally get invested in what happens to them, that ending does feel like a cheat.
Also, as mentioned, there are moments where the situations seem like it came from a textbook manual where the director makes it feel like the struggles have to seem never-ending rather than just being so.
It almost feels like the characters are struggling, not because of what they are going through. But because of what the makers willed it to and to wring out the last bit of emotion from us.
Thankfully, Isabel does not choose to show unnecessary backstories to create sympathy for the characters. Apart from the phone calls she makes to her family in the Philippines, we know very little about her back story. Her conversations with her best friend about their childhood also feels heartwarming while delivering a gut punch at the same time.
In Olivia, Isabel Sandoval manages to bring out a wholly original character that came only come out because you know there was a real person who lived out that life. Watching it play out on screen and how she chooses to portray it is why you should Lingua Franca be seen.
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