Coda (2021)

“I certainly don’t need a lesson in failure from someone who’s too afraid to even try.”

“I Really Love You” is signed to end CODA (child of deaf adults) signaling not only a new beginning but an appreciation for the love that Ruby (Emilia Jones) feels for her family for understanding her need to go to college and pursue music. Ruby’s entire immediate family is Deaf – her parents Frank (Troy Kotsur) and Jackie (Marlee Matlin) and her brother Leo (Daniel Durant). Being the only person who can hear and understand language in the Rossi home is visibly and understandably frustrating for Ruby but oddly satisfying – being able to let out any emotion at any decibel or play hard rock at 3 AM to prepare for the day of work.

The Rossi family are fisherman and women, mostly Frank, Leo, and Ruby. Since Ruby has the ability to hear, she helps her father and brother on the boat based on the law requirements. But waking up at 3AM everyday isn’t an idea situation for a high school senior – too much responsibility rests on her shoulders. Ruby feels obligated to help her parents more so for others to understand them. According to Frank, the problem isn’t that they’re Deaf, they can express themselves with no issues, the problem lies with others really listening to what they have to say.

Last year’s Sound of Metal achieved the very same thing that CODA does. Raising the voices of those in the Deaf community to better hear them. And it’s done in a careful and concise manner for us who can hear to listen. Being Deaf isn’t a disability, it’s not something to hide from or overcome – you adapt to it. If we all just listen than language isn’t difficult to understand. Because the Rossi family is in a very competitive business, the threat of being taken advantage of is lucrative especially since Frank or Leo can’t defend themselves verbally. 

It’s truly heartbreaking to see some be so cruel to those who are born differently. Not understanding and assumption is worse than silence. Writer/director Sian Heder perfectly captures that frustration out of Ruby who Emilia plays brilliantly. That type of cruelty is expected from teenagers because of the lack of maturity but from coming from an adult is worse because we know better.  

CODA is a beautiful movie, cliched but still prominent in its message. Family is deep rooted in the Rossi family; they work well together with one thing getting more in the way as the film gets under its legs – Ruby loves to sing. And she’s good at it too with a ton of potential. Music represents the conflict in CODA. On one hand, Ruby joins choir and instantly gets noticed by her teacher Mr. Villalobos (Eugenio Derbez). He sees her potential, deciding to work with her on an audition to Berklee College of Music in Boston. Ruby wholeheartedly deserves it too, why should she miss an opportunity to have a life? 

On the other hand, Ruby’s family feels betrayed – since they can’t hear their daughter sing how can Frank and Jackie trust that Ruby is a good singer? They feel she is breaking her responsibility to work on the family boat to go pursue something she may never achieve. Jackie sees how selfish Ruby is being, spending time away from the new business singing and hanging out with Miles (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo). Frank, Leo, and Jackie believe Ruby is obligated to help her family for others to understand them. 

Feeling heard is a big element in CODA – Ruby wants to be heard and understood that she can’t throw her life away to help her family when she has an opportunity to go to college and her family wants to be listened to, not mocked to their faces. 

One of the best scenes comes in the middle of the 111-minute runtime when Ruby verbally expresses Frank’s frustrations with the fishing regulations. Right before starting their own business, he verbally vomits all his pent-up anger and frustration and the fellow fisherman hear him and applaud his courage. Like the entire film, it’s a well-crafted scene full of emotion that hits on every level imaginable – making you smile one minute than have a breakdown the next. 

I admire CODA, same way I admire Sound of Metal. The focus is never about being Deaf and overcoming it, the focus is how we adapt to it. Both are brilliant in their inclusiveness to a community who rarely get their voices heard. There are real people like the Rossi family who are probably struggling with the same things the Rossi’s struggle with. But thanks to technology no one is truly helpless – American Sign Language is spoken by many with new ways to assist the Deaf Community. My favorite scene comes during Ruby’s audition. Her family sneaks in and watches her and Ruby signs her song for them. Truly breathtaking. And even with the trepidation of letting Ruby go to Boston, Frank, Jackie, and Leo all accept that they can’t hold her back.

More people need to see these stories, unfortunate that many will miss it due to it being exclusive to Apple TV +. Add to the date of release, it may not get picked up for Academy Award Consideration when it deserves it. Performances from everyone are special but Emilia stands out amongst them all. 

My only critique – I wish there was more sound distortion and seeing the world from Frank, Leo, and Jackie’s perspective.

Written By: Sian Heder

Directed By: Sian Heder

Music By: Marius de Vries

Cinematography: Paula Huidobro

Starring: Emilia Jones, Eugenio Derbez, Troy Kotsur, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Daniel Durant, Marlee Matlin

Where to Watch: Apple TV +

Release Date: August 13, 2021

Running Time: 1 Hour 51 Minutes

Rotten Tomatoes Score: 96%

My Score: 5 out of 5

Based On: La Famille Bélier by Victoria Bedos, Thomas Bidegain, Stanislas Carré de Malberg & Éric Lartigau

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