Review by Dan Skip Allen
CODA (which stands for Child of Deaf Adults) was the opening night film at this year's Sundance Film Festival back in January. It was very widely acclaimed by everyone who saw it, and some people even have said that it's an early contender for a Best Picture nomination at next year's Academy Awards. After finally seeing it, I can honestly say it's one of the best films of the year as of yet.
Ruby (Emilia Jones) is a high school student who works on her father's (Troy Kotsur) fishing boat in Gloucester, Mass. Fishing is the family business. Her brother, Leo (Daniel Durant), and her mother (Academy Award-winning actress Marlee Matlin) are all involved in the family business. Fishing has been in the family for generations. The problem is Ruby has a gift of singing, but her family can't hear her because they're deaf. The choir teacher Mr. V (Eugenio Derbez) tries to help Ruby nurture her singing ability.
CODA is an unconventional coming-of-age story because of the deaf angle. Even though subtitles are placed on screen while the family members are using sign language, the emotions of the various situations and arguments/disagreements are very effective to the viewer watching. The director Sian Heder gets her story across very well that way. A subplot involving the son/brother is left on the back burner though. The main focus is Jones's character and her plight as the only hearing-able person in a deaf family.
The family business is the key to how this family makes a living and lives their lives. That is coming into turmoil because of the changing landscape of the fishing industry. The fact that the family is deaf comes into effect because they can't understand what's going on around them at times. Jones's character is a big part of how they translate to the outside world away from their family. They are somewhat known as outcasts because of their collective disabilities. This is the real heart of the film.
The music in the film is a nice lighter side compared to the dramatic stuff involved with the family dynamic. The soundtrack is probably something to invest in. It has a couple of songs by Joni Michell and Etta James that are sung throughout the film by the teens in the choir and in a singing competition. The score by Marius De Vries is a nice addition to the film as well. It has a feel that flows nicely with all the drama as well as nicer, more pleasant moments in the film.
CODA has a tender side as well as a real side to it. The real-life problems are problems a lot of us are going through, but more focused in this particular town in Massachusetts, the fishing capital of the northeast. The tender side is the fact that teens have different motivations than adults. They think about acceptance in school, boys, and friends. The singing is a way for the main character to get her way with her family and friends. This could also be her true calling in life. She may not be meant for the family business, like the rest of them.
CODA has a story most of us can get behind. It is relatable to teens and adults alike. Families of all backgrounds, creeds, and religions can feel this is a story about them. This story and film is the kind of thing America needs right now considering the hard times we are in as a civilization. People need happy heartwarming stories with happy endings and CODA is that film. I hope it's there in the Best Picture race next year because it deserves the spotlight with all the other great films of 2021. Emilia Jones (Locke & Key) is a revelation in this film and I can't wait to see what she does next.
CODA hits theaters and Apple TV+ on August 13.