WHERE TO WATCH:
WHAT IT’S ABOUT:
Ruby is the only hearing member of a deaf family. She helps her family out to keep their fishing business afloat while also being their sign language interpreter. But once she joins her school’s choir club, it opens up ambitions in her that she did not know that she had.
WHAT WE THOUGHT:
At its barest bones, CODA seems a lot like what we have seen before – a teenage girl has to choose between her duty to her family and her passion. But what sets CODA apart is the heart of the film, the fact that it bleeds with emotion, colour and empathy that you feel gripped by it from beginning to end.
The title CODA refers to the acronym – Child of Deaf Adults – and as the only hearing member of her family, that is what Ruby (Emilia Jones) is. She spends her early mornings helping her father (Troy Kotsur) and brother (Daniel Durant) with their fishing business and then goes to school. At school, she has a crush on a boy, Miles (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), who joins the school choir led by Bernardo Villalobos (Eugenio Derbez), also known as Mr V. Ruby soon discovers that she has a real talent for music, and Mr V encourages her to apply to attend a music college in Boston, which would take her away from her family. She has gotten so used to being the family’s interpreter that she has almost put aside what she really wants.
The beauty of the film is in its characters – especially the deaf characters who were all played by deaf actors. They are not two-dimensional characters who are defined only by their disability. The parents are in love and hilarious and make sarcastic comments; they feel real. Ruby’s mom Jackie, played by Oscar-winner Marlee Matlin, is excellent in the role, and the chemistry between her and Emilia Jones is so good that they feel like real mother and daughter. There’s a sense of resentment between them, Jackie bans headphones by the table, and she makes a comment about Ruby only being interested in singing because Jackie is deaf. In the same way, Ruby seems to resent her duty to her family and that she feels like the odd one out in her family.
Troy Kotsur as Frank, Ruby’s father, is the real scene-stealer, though. In the scene where Ruby has to interpret for her father at his doctor’s appointment, his comedic timing was so brilliant. And he toggles between that and extremely powerful emotional scenes. There is one in particular when he and Ruby are sitting, and he feels her vocal cords move as she sings, and the emotions his face goes through will be etched in your mind long after the film is finished.
Ruby’s brother, Leo, is also a full and interesting character. We see his character have a romance with another local in the town, go out with friends, have ideas for the family business, and just do things that are normal for men of his age. Like Sound of Metal did earlier in the year, CODA shows the complexity and depths of the deaf community and how those who are deaf are not just defined by it; they have rich, full lives separate from their disability.
Emilia Jones, a British actor who had to learn both how to speak with an American accent and American Sign Language for this role, is excellent. I had no idea she was not an American actor until after the film. But further than that, she put so much heart and emotion into this role that it made one relate to Ruby. The story itself might feel specific, but the story of choice, of choosing between duty and passion, of dedication to one’s family, is universal.
Like with the aforementioned Sound of Metal, CODA makes interesting use of sound design. It is not as blatant or revolutionary as Sound of Metal, but director Sian Heder and sound designer Paul Lucien Col made some excellent choices as to what scenes they chose to film from the family’s perspective. There is one scene in particular where the family is watching Ruby sing, and we get to experience it from their point of view. It is heart-breaking that they would never be able to hear their daughter’s talent.
CODA is the ultimate feel-good movie. A relatable story with lovely characters and the climax will make everyone root for our heroine. It is the type of film we seek out after a hard day; it’s the type of film that everyone in the family would enjoy. It is no surprise that it won the US Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. The past two years have felt like one long day, and this is just the type of film that the audience is longing to watch.
WATCH THE TRAILER HERE: