**A Quick review of CODA from the Sundance Film Festival. More thoughts to come when the film gets an official release**
My family just can’t understand. It’s a bit of shared experience that has been fertile ground for coming of age films as far back as Rebel Without a Cause. What makes James Dean’s portrayal of Jim so impressive is the deepens of his convictions when, in reality, he was the one who didn’t understand his parents. CODA presents a coming of age story where its teen protagonist really is misunderstood.
Ruby (Emilia Jones) is the only hearing member of her otherwise deaf family. As a result she is an essential part of how her parents interact with the world. School, hobbies and life in general take a backseat as she spends mornings helping crew her father’s fishing boat and evenings translating for the family business at the farmer’s market. Though the family business would flounder — pun intended — without her, Ruby cant help but feel like an outsider to her own clan.
At home she’s scolded for listening to music at the table, at school she’s the kid who couldn’t quite enunciate properly. What nobody knows, whether they couldn’t hear or never took the time to, is that Ruby can really sing. She’s translated for her family for so long that, as she begins to pursue a future in music, Ruby struggles with the prospect of finally speaking for herself.
CODA is trope laden in all the ways you might expect of a coming of age drama. The high school choir and romance subplot — with a surprisingly charmless Ferdia Walsh-Peelo (he was really good in Sing Street!) — fall disappointingly flat. Fortunately, director Siân Heder (Tallulah) recognizes where the power of her film lies.
At home is where CODA really shines. Deaf actors play Ruby’s family with a heartfelt depth that can only come from lived experience. Especially wonderful is Troy Katsur as the patriarch of this family. From the very first moments he brings a spark of humor to the film and sustained sense of remorse that he can’t provide all that his daughter needs.
In all the ways that the high school dramedy aspects feel forced, the family drama feels undeniably genuine. Jones, Katsur, Marlee Matlin, playing Ruby’s demanding mother, and Daniel Durant, as her older brother in his feature debut, all capture a sense of worry that they aren’t enough. Each frets to some degree that they can’t make due for themselves or worse, aren’t strong enough for each other. Jones especially bridges the different elements CODA is going for beautifully.
When it gets a wide release I think CODA will strike a nerve with audiences. It’s a story of the ways in which the world ostracizes the differently abled without ever preaching or demanding sympathy. At the heart of the film is a family trying to get by just like anyone else, their challenges much the same as any of their hearing counterparts. 7/10