You would believe writer Heder’s “CODA” is all about formulaic beats you’ve seen a million times before. This is Coda film review.
At first sight, you would believe writer/director Sian Heder’s “CODA” is all about formulaic beats you’ve seen a million times before. After all, it’s a wonderfully familiar coming-of-age story about a gifted small-town girl from humble circumstances who aspires to pursue music in the big metropolis.
There’s an optimistic instructor, a charming crush, heartfelt rehearsal montages, a high-stakes audition, and, predictably, a family wary of their children’s dreams. Again, at first sight, you may believe you already know everything about this feel-good meal.
In this Coda Film Review “CODA,” kind, loud, and decorated with the biggest of hearts, will prove you wrong. It’s not that Heder doesn’t value the aforementioned traditions for their reassuring value—she does. But, by inverting the pattern and placing this recognized narrative inside a fresh, possibly even pioneering environment with such loving, precisely observed precision.
She pulls off nothing short of a wonderful miracle with her film, whose title is an acronym: Child of Deaf Adult. The remarkable young girl in issue here happens to be one, played by the outstanding Emilia Jones (who sings endowed with Grade-A pipes), negotiating the complexities of her identity, passions, and familial expectations, striving to reconcile them without hurting anyone’s feelings, including her own.
To be sure, “CODA” is based on the French film “La Famille Bélier,” so the concept isn’t wholly original. The cast is what’s fresh here, and it makes all the difference. While the family in the well-meaning original was played by hearing cast members (with the exception of the brother played by deaf actor Luca Gelberg).
They are all portrayed by real-life deaf performers in Heder’s film—a sensational group that includes legendary Oscar winner Marlee Matlin, scene-stealing Troy Kotsur, and Daniel Durant—infusing her adaptation with a rare, inherent kind of authenticity.
Jones is the 17-year-old Ruby, a dedicated high-schooler in Gloucester, Cape Ann’s seaside town, who gets up at the crack of dawn every day to help her family—her father Frank (Kotsur), brother Leo (Durant), and mother Jackie (Matlin)—at their boat and recently discovered fish sales company. Heder is eager to provide us with a genuine glimpse into Ruby’s routine.
As the only hearing member of the Rossi clan, she is used to being her family’s sign-language interpreter out in the world. She spends her days translating every scenario imaginable two ways: at town meetings, at the doctor’s office (one early instance of which plays for full-sized laughs thanks to Kotsur’s golden comedic chops), and on the boat, where a hearing person is required to notice the signals and coastal announcements.
What Ruby has seems so balanced and awe-inspiring that it takes a while to realize how taxing the whole arrangement is for the little girl, even if she makes it appear simple with maturity and a feeling of responsibility that belies her years. To begin, she is all too aware of her parents’ intimate lives, including their medical concerns and (to her uproarious horror), sexual activity.
When the hearing world becomes rude or dismissive, she jumps in almost instinctively, always putting others above herself. When Ruby joins the school choir and discovers her talent for singing, it throws her off balance and puts her at odds with her family, especially when she decides to apply to Boston’s Berklee College of Music, adopting a rehearsal schedule that frequently conflicts with her duties in the family business. Miles (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo from “Sing Street”), a bashful boy with real respect for Ruby, complicates matters even further.
If there’s one flaw here, it’s how far Heder goes with Eugenio Derbez’s Bernardo Villalobos, a character who somehow communicates a sitcom-y artificiality in an otherwise honest film. Derbez tries his best with a selection of stock speech lines, but his sequences don’t always land with the same honesty as the rest of “CODA.” Still, this failure of judgment feels trivial in the context of a film that is so moving, so in tune with its old-fashioned crowd-pleaser nature.
Coda Film Review
(Had it played in a real version of Sundance 2021 instead of its virtual counterpart, this would have been the festival’s standing ovation tale.) And plenty of other kinds of sincerity make up for it throughout “CODA,” from the way Heder portrays Cape Ann and the life around it through lived-in details to how she honors the joys and anxieties of a working-class family with candor and humor, without ever making them or their Deafness the punchline.
Most importantly in Coda Film Review, she helps us see and know in our bones that the Rossis are a genuine family with real chemistry, real relationships, and struggles, both unique and universal like every other family. Ruby’s chosen route reveals the uniqueness of those regular fights. Will Ruby’s musical skill set her apart from the rest of the Rossis? What would life be like for the foursome if Ruby decided to leave? Heder spells out the answers openly in a number of very kind (and, to this observer, tear-jerking) passages, but notably in a couple that plays like mirror versions of one other.
During one, all sound disappears while Ruby sings in front of her closest friends and family, causing us to see her performance through the eyes of the deaf. Sound doesn’t matter at all during the other, which features well-chosen music that could simply warm even the coldest of hearts. Because Heder makes certain that we perceive the limitless love that exists in their common language.