Loosely based on a 2014 French Film called “La Famille Bélier,” the second feature film from director Sian Heder introduces us to a family in Gloucester, Massachusetts where a teenage girl named Ruby (Emilia Jones) is the only member of her family who isn’t deaf.
In classical music, a coda is the part of the composition that ends the piece or movement. Here, it stands as an acronym for “child of deaf adults” although it does double duty musically in the story as well.
Ruby has grown up in her family’s fishing company, working alongside her father and brother on the boat and helping her mother with the administrative side of things. She is not only well versed in the business, but also acts as a de facto interpreter for them in situations where they have to deal with others who don’t know sign language.
Oscar-winner Marlee Matlin and Troy Kotsur are marvellous in their roles as Jackie and Frank, the parental units of this household. Their relationship feels so authentic and intimate, they shine as the kind of parents that relish in embarrassing their children in the moment at nearly every turn, but exhibit massive amounts of love even when there are misunderstandings.
The family dynamic first becomes disrupted when Ruby pursues her dream of singing in the school choir, something the other members of her family can’t participate in. After revealing her secret, Jackie scolds Ruby with something along the lines of, “if I was blind, I suppose you would want to paint.” It cuts deep for both of them as they fundamentally fear disconnection.
Ruby works to find her own path to happiness that includes applying to the Berklee College of Music and falling for another choir member named Miles (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo from “Sing Street) while balancing the needs of her family.
The situation at home is also made challenging by the resentment (sometimes intentional, often not) from her brother Leo (Daniel Durant), who is the older sibling but is forced to take a backseat in the business to Ruby because they lean on her ability to hear and communicate for them outside the family.
Heder’s screenplay hit all the right notes for me. It’s unquestionably designed as a crowdpleaser, but the emotional beats work strongly even when they’re occasionally manipulative. Two scenes towards the end of the film are built in such a way to virtually ensure you are crying by the time the credits roll. For some, it’s probably too much on the verge of soap opera, but I fell hard.
“CODA” delivers an amazing ensemble cast with a strong message of how you can find your independence without sacrificing the ones you love in the process.
Apple paid a record-breaking $25 million for the global rights to the film after it premiered at Sundance earlier this year. It picked up four awards at the festival: the Special Jury Award for Ensemble Cast, the Directing Award, the Audience Award, and the Grand Jury Prize.
“CODA” is now playing in select theaters and is also streaming globally on Apple TV+. To make the film more accessible for all viewers, it is presented with open captions that subtitle the spoken dialogue and sign language.