Lingua Franca

Movie review by
Barbara Shulgasser-Parker, Common Sense Media
Lingua Franca Movie Poster Image
Drama about undocumented woman has language, nudity.
  • NR
  • 2019
  • 89 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Life is hard. Many people have to play the system just to get by.

Positive Role Models

Olivia is smart and caring but overwhelmed by her difficult situation. Diverse characters.

Violence

A trans woman lives under the threat of arrest and deportation. A man steals money from a stranger. A manager describes killing animals inside a meat-packing plant. A drunk crashed his car into a store before the action starts.

Sex

A man makes love with a trans women he's falling in love with before he knows she's trans. Her breasts are shown. A woman uses a sex toy to masturbate. A man claims that a stripper was begging him to have sex with her. Men denigrate female strippers.

Language

"F--k," "s--t," "damn," "ass," "d--k," "suck," "blow," and "bitch."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

An alcoholic drinks a lot. Adults smoke cigarettes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Lingua Franca is a 2019 film directed by and starring Isabel Sandoval. She plays an undocumented Filipino transwoman working as the caretaker for an elderly woman in New York City. The film underscores the double psychological challenge of living with gender issues and with the threat of deportation during an era of renewed anti-immigrant sentiment and active anti-immigrant government activity.  Language include "f--k," "s--t," "damn," "ass," "d--k," "suck," "blow," and "bitch. Characters smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol. One is an alcoholic trying to get his life back together. A man makes love with a trans woman; her breasts are seen. A woman uses a sex toy to masturbate. A man claims that a stripper was begging him to have sex with her. Men denigrate female strippers. A man steals money from a stranger. A manager describes killing animals inside a meat-packing plant.

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What's the story?

In LINGUA FRANCA, Olivia (Isabel Sandoval) is an undocumented Filipino transwoman, the kind and responsible caretaker of Olga (Lynn Cohen), an elderly Russian woman in Brooklyn. Olivia is paying a man to marry her so she can get the green card that will allow her to work and stay in the U.S. legally. The process is long and expensive and comes to an abrupt halt when the man who agreed to marry her falls for someone else. Olivia lives in fear, certain that immigration agents lurk around every corner waiting to snatch her and send her back to the Philippines. When Alex (Eamon Farren), Olga's sweet but black-sheep grandson, comes to live with Olga, he adds a sense of danger and unease to the situation. Fresh from rehab, he drinks heavily, and eventually becomes intimately involved with Olivia. When his drunken friend swipes Olivia's passport, which shows that Olivia was once a he, Alex continues the relationship but pretends the passport was stolen, making Olivia more vulnerable and dependent on him. How can Olivia overcome her challenges?

Is it any good?

Isabel Sandoval is a sensitive and deft director who creates the realistic mood of hopelessness in which Olivia dwells. Olivia has many challenges to overcome, and Lingua Franca's minimal script and moody lighting help us become sympathetic cheerleaders, hoping she gets everything she wants. Sandoval's understated performance helps, too. When the self absorbed, alcoholic Alex enters the picture, it feels as if Olivia's difficult world could go from gloomy to nightmarish if she's not careful, and that suspense is exploited capably. However, little is explained here. The movie never clarifies whether Alex is well-meaning or malicious. That makes it tough for us to invest in any particular outcome.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the plight of undocumented workers. What do you know about this topic? How could you learn more?

  • What are some reasons that people might want to leave their countries?

  • Does Lingua Franca feel like a political statement about immigration policy or a story about how laws affect people's lives? Why?

Movie details

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