The film CODA tells the story of seventeen-year-old Ruby (Emilia Jones), the sole hearing member of a deaf family (also known as a CODA – Child Of Deaf Adults) living in Gloucester, Massachusetts.
A senior in high school, Ruby’s life revolves around school, acting as interpreter for her parents (Marlee Matlin, Troy Kotsur), and working on the family’s struggling fishing boat every day before school with her father and older brother (Daniel Durant).
Noticing a cute boy signing up for choir, Ruby impulsively joins, too. She loves to sing, but has no idea if she’s good, since she’s pretty much only sung around her family.
Oh, but she is very good, and her eccentric tough-love choirmaster Bernardo “if you can’t roll your r’s, just call me Mr. V” Villalobos (Eugenio Derbez) decides to pair her with that cute boy, Miles (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), for a duet.
As if that’s not enough extra pressure, there’s a new complication with the family fishing business, AND Mr V. pressures her to audition for the prestigious Berklee College of Music.
Ruby not only finds herself burning the candle at all ends, but also torn between the obligations she feels to her family as their only connection to the hearing world, and the pursuit of her own dreams, which would take her away from them.
Normally these coming-of-age films tend to be very formulaic, but even though this movie is actually an English-language remake of the 2014 French-language film La Famille Bélier, there was a lot of heart and honesty to the script. Real life within a family dynamic gets messy as it changes, and CODA handles it without getting schmaltzy or cliched.
I loved that the sign language dialog isn’t handled much differently than spoken dialog (though thankfully there are subtitles as my ASL is quite rusty). It’s just part of the normal conversations in this film.
Some of the signing dad does gets rather descriptive when he’s signing about body parts, but one gets the feeling he just does that to embarrass Ruby, and it’s actually quite funny. Case in point is the scene where Ruby has to go with her parents to the doctor and translate while dad signs his testicles itch and burn. Even without verbal translation I’m pretty sure the doctor got the gist.
I was excited to see this film because I enjoyed director Siân Heder’s previous film, Tallulah (with Elliot Page and Alison Janney), but her work both directing and adapting the script on CODA surpasses that, and she is what gives this film its groove. There’s a moment during the choir concert where she totally takes you into the parents’ point of view, and it really brings the gap they face with Ruby home. That scene will stick with me for a while.
The cast is pretty amazing, too. You already know how brilliant Marlee Matlin is as an actress, but Emilia Jones is a revelation in this film. I first noticed her as Kinsey Locke in the Netflix series “Locke & Key,” but in CODA, she is the anchor that holds this film on track and really makes it all work.
Not to mention her amazing voice! I could watch a whole film of her just singing. Somebody sign her for a musical, please!
I laughed, I cried…I felt the pressure and I felt the inspiration. CODA is one of the most beautiful films I’ve watched all year – maybe even longer.
I’m giving CODA one of my rare 5 out of 5 stars. I really could not find fault with any of it. It will debut in theaters and on Apple TV+ on August 13, 2021.
Director: Siân Heder
Cast: Emilia Jones, Marlee Matlin, Troy Kotsur, Eugenio Derbez, Daniel Durant, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo
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Tagged: Apple TV, Apple TV Plus, CODA, Daniel Durant, dramedy films, Emilia Jones, Eugenio Derbez, family drama, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Marlee Matlin, movie reviews, Sundance award-winning films, Troy Kotsur