CODA is cathartic. A film that put a giant lump in your throat while at the same time lifting your spirits.
This review of the Apple TV+ film CODA does not contain spoilers.
I could spout out a couple of dozen film criticism cliches about Sian Heder’s film, CODA. Phrases like, “It’s the film we need right now!”, “All hail the healing powers of CODA!” or one of my favorite over-the-top, eye-roll-inducing ones, “A film that can change hearts and minds,” in a weak attempt to get me a quote on a Blu-ray jacket or a 30-second YouTube trailer. I won’t do that here. No. Never. Oh, what the hell. Maybe I’ll go with the last one.
What I will say is that CODA is cathartic. It’s one of those crowd-pleasing films that put a big-ole lump in your throat while at the same time lifting your spirits. All while taking the coming of age genre from a fresh angle. A view of the world is normally ignored by the film and television? Think about it. How many films or shows have you watched that aren’t a documentary, where over half the dialogue is translated through sign language?
CODA stars Emilia Jones (Brimstone) as Ruby Rossi. She is a 17-year-old senior who frequently falls asleep in class smelling of salt water and old fish. That’s because she is up helping her family’s fishing boat business at the crack of dawn in the early hours of the morning in Gloucester, Massachusetts. She has to. Otherwise, they won’t be able to keep their fishing business afloat. That’s because she is the only member of her family who is not deaf, and they can’t afford additional help for a hearing deckhand.
Her mother, Jaclyn (the great Marlee Matlin), runs the books. Her father, Frank (Troy Kotsur), is a tall glass of water with a glorious beard, and wicked sense of humor. Her brother, Leo (You‘s Daniel Durant), screws any girl that glances at him. He gets that from his parents who have maintained a teenager’s raging sex-drive well into their 50s. They are a tight-knit group, heavily relying on Ruby to bridge the hearing world. To Leo’s dismay, they frequently use his sister instead of him to help run the business.
This isn’t something Ruby signed up for. She loves music but can’t even listen to it with headphones on because her parents think it’s rude. She tries out for the school choir but has never sung for anyone. It’s her favorite thing and often sings around the house or local quarry where no one can hear her. Her teacher (How to Be a Latin Lover’s Eugenio Derbez), helps guide her out of her shell to pursue her passion. Giving her a small sense of hope to pursue her dreams and have a life outside her current predicament.
CODA is an acronym that stands for a child of a deaf adult. A term developed by Millie Brother because 90% of children born from deaf parents are not deaf or hearing impaired. The importance of this may not be evident to most Americans. The children of two deaf parents parallel those children of first-generation immigrants who rely on their children to be their liaison, guide, and interpreters from the deaf to hearing worlds.
The film, written and directed by Heller (Tallulah, Glow), is grounded, yet funny and sweet. It may not be the most accurate portrayal of a hearing-impaired, but she never lets that get in the way of a good story. Her script stays true to the film’s themes while being entertaining enough to get the film’s message across even if they may tie some bows on some subplots too easily. Especially when it comes to scholarship opportunities or even having the money to start their own business and still stay afloat. This movie is aimed at being “crowd-pleasing,” not depressing.
The casting is just perfect. Emilia Jones is just phenomenal here. She’s a tomboy with a lovely voice. Tough, strong, resilient, and sensitive. And give credit to the filmmakers for knowing how important it was to cast all the Rossi family parts with deaf actors. Troy Kotsur gives a funny and poignant performance as the patriarch of the Rossi family. Delivering lines with pristine comic timing, from his unapologetic urges to be intimate with his wife or the most tender scenes of touching his daughter’s neck to feel the power of the gift his daughter has been blessed with. It’s really one of the year’s very best performances. I’ll be heartbroken if he doesn’t receive a nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
I’ll say this about CODA. It works on two levels. It’s a film aimed at changing hearts and minds (see, I did it). It is not only a refreshing look at a deaf family, but that is also rarely looked at. Think about the world we live in today. Films have always been a reflection of that. The last decade has been filled with hate. The need to announce we will close our borders and send the undocumented back, as this wasn’t their home, to begin with. What Heder did here took a real-world issue and found an avenue to communicate that through the eyes of the deaf families not accepted by their community. A group cut-off from the rest of the world. Relying on their children and a close-knit group of people who are just like them.
CODA placed white faces and used a nonimmigrant story to get that salient point across about acceptance and intolerance.