by Julian Spivey
Director: Sian Heder
Starring: Emilia Jones, Marlee Matlin & Troy Kotsur
Runtime: 1 hour & 51 minutes
I was listening to The Big Picture Podcast (a podcast from The Ringer) earlier in the week and the hosts Sean Fennessey and Amanda Dobbins were doing a “too early of a prediction on Oscar Best Picture nominees” and the prospect of “CODA” being among the 10 nominees for Best Picture at the next Academy Awards was mentioned. “CODA” has been a film I’ve wanted to watch since it was released on AppleTV+’s streaming platform in mid-August, but hadn’t gotten around to it yet, but I was surprised to hear it mentioned in a Best Picture conversation, simply because it felt like a small scale film despite it glowing reviews.
I finally got around to watching “CODA” on Thanksgiving and it’s an incredibly lovely film and probably my favorite movie I’ve seen of 2021 thus far (though I must throw out the caveat it’s only the 12th film of 2021 I’ve seen). I’m happy to hear it might get some Academy love, though I would still be a bit surprised if it did.
“CODA,” which stand for child of deaf adults (though I don’t think it’s ever mentioned in the film), is a coming-of-age dramedy about Ruby Rossi (played by Emilia Jones), the only speaking member of a family of fisherman in Gloucester, Mass. whose gift of speech makes her vital to the family business. Ruby has a passion for singing and when she finds out she’s quite amazing at it thanks to her choir teacher Bernardo (roll those ‘Rs’) Villalobos (played by Eugenio Derbez) she decides she’d like to pursue the Berklee College of Music in Boston.
Ruby’s passion for singing puts her and her family in a bind. She doesn’t want to let her family down, but she doesn’t want the family business to go under because she’s not around to help. They don’t want to crush her dreams, but they also depend on her for their livelihood.
Ruby’s parents, Frank and Jackie, are played by Troy Kotsur and Academy Award winner Marlee Matlin, both deaf actors. Ruby’s brother Leo is played by Daniel Durant, also a deaf actor.
“CODA,” directed and written by Sian Heder, did a terrific job at hiring real-life deaf actors to portray deaf characters, something that the 2014 French film “La Famille Belier,” the film it’s based off, didn’t do which led to controversy.
It’s incredibly important for films based on minority groups, like the deaf community, to give opportunities to actors within that community, especially when you have such wonderful actors as Kotsur, Matlin and Durant – all of whom are fantastic in their roles, especially Kotsur and Matlin who bring much of the film’s laughs with their voracious sex lives, much to the embarrassment of their daughter.
Jones is terrific in the lead role as Ruby, and she put in so much work before filming in learning not only American Sign Language and taking singing lessons, but also by learning how to work a fishing trawler. The dedication put into this role is amazing and the acting of being torn between two loves is incredibly believable. You really feel for all the main characters in the film.
“CODA” is an all-around beauty of a film and a good family watch, so I was happy to be able to share the experience of seeing it with my wife and my parents on a holiday of thanks, as I’m always thankful for wonderful new films.