August 13th, 2021
STARRING: EMILIA JONES, MARLEE MATLIN, TROY KOTSUR, DANIEL DURANT, EUGENIO DERBEZ
DIRECTED BY: SIAN HEDER
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
Last weekend I had a wedding in Vermont, but before we left for the airport there was a series of unfortunate events. My wife and I were running late to catch our flight and before we left, we discovered that our garage door was broken, and in my attempts to fix it, I smashed my finger, causing it to bleed. A band-aid was applied, my wife and I bickered at one another, our stress levels were high because getting the garage fixed became a priority, and now we needed to take a Lyft to catch our flight on time. Anyone going through those things would be understandably frustrated, but then I got into my ride to discover that my driver was deaf. When my wife got into the car an amazing thing happened, she knew sign language, which made the ride go flawless, but the emotion of it all hit me. My wife was making our driver’s day a little better and I suddenly realized that my problems were not so big. To live in this world with a disability is heroic and takes a tremendous amount of strength. Strength I don’t have. We shouldn’t need reminders, but it’s important to walk in their shoes, know that some have it tougher than others. CODA, is an acronym for Child of Deaf Adults, and it is also the title of the beautiful Sundance award winning film from writer/director Sian Heder. It’s the story of a family of four, where the parents and son are deaf, while the daughter can hear, making the dynamics of life incredibly complicated. It’s a beautiful story about the struggles with the family we are born into, learning to break out of one’s shell, and finding music in the hearts of others.
The Rossi’s are a Massachucetts fishing family. The makeup of the team is Father Frank (Troy Kotsur), mother Jackie (Oscar winner Marlee Matlin), son Leo (Daniel Durant), and daughter Ruby (Emilia Jones). They are a tight knit group, which is understandable as they communicate as a cohesive unit, with Ruby doing all the translating, while Frank and Leo do the heavy lifting on the ship, and Jackie takes care of things at home. For Ruby, however, this life is not easy, in her late years of high school, where kids make fun of her by making grunting noises, and she’s also unable to have much of a social life outside her own family. She’s constantly needed for things, to answer phones, interpret for them at gatherings without a person to sign, and sacrifices her life for the greater good of it all. But this becomes increasingly hard when it’s revealed how Ruby can sing and her newfound potential relationship with Miles (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo). CODA is an earnest and complex story about the cards a person can be dealt, which become even more difficult after it’s revealed that Ruby can sing. The question becomes will she be able to go live her own life, go to Berklee college of music, or is she stuck being the personal family sign language assistance? It’s Ruby’s journey and it’s a topic that we all can be better at, which is to set aside our worries, and think about others.
One of the cooler factors about CODA is that it is one of the first films to automatically include subtitles that will be on display in every theater showing it. Sian Heder’s film is also incredibly tuned in with the hearing impaired community, including a complete cast that is hearing impaired and knowing sign language, because getting this right matters. It shows on the screen. The performance from Emilia Jones is a revelation, going through the flows of her journey, with a gorgeous voice to boot, and the brilliant touch of her emotions. Her music teacher is Eugenio Derbez as Mr. V., and the two have an incredible chemistry of teacher and pupil, where the guidance of a mentor can help when the homelife is a constant struggle. It’s all there in the writing from Heder, which still feels like a typical Sundance narrative, but she injects unexpected balance of humor and emotions. It’s easy to say that the writing of CODA is great and it comes to life through sign, delivered by an amazing ensemble of actors.
At the most, CODA is a film to shine a light at how all movies today should include subtitles, allowing the audience to understand a film more, and those in the deaf community can always feel welcomed at the theater. The other highlight of CODA is the refreshing throwback to a John Hughes film, with a lighthearted nature to life, where it has that unexpected humor, but also reveals the individual of the father, son, and mother. An incredibly sweet moment between Marlee Matlin and Emilia Jones is a reminder that Matlin is a great actor no matter what the role. This is a movie where the narrative, the performances, and everything else becomes secondary to the fact that the cast needs to sign to communicate. It all becomes like watching any other movie, only this one happens to be very good.
Even if there are some cliches to the story of CODA, there’s still nothing else like it, a movie that shows the great courage of people that are hearing impaired, deaf, and fighting to make the world an accessible place for them. It’s also just a story of family, working together to help others, not holding people back, and letting someone reach for their dreams. It sounds mushy, but CODA is just a real and eye-opening film. Take a walk in the shoes of others, it’s incredibly important for all of us to listen. CODA is a new dawn for cinema with the hearing impaired, they deserve our attention right now, and I hope for more in the future.
CODA IS IN SELECT THEATERS AND PREMIERES ON APPLETV+ THIS FRIDAY AUGUST 13TH
Written by: Leo Brady