SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2021 REVIEW! CODA, an acronym for Child of Deaf Adults, is a sweet and entertaining film from director Siân Heder, who previously helmed the Elliot Page-Allison Janney starring film Tallulah. Here, she focuses on a teenage girl who has to juggle a lot in life, being the only person who can hear in her family.
In a major breakout performance, Emilia Jones stars as Ruby Rossi. She gets up early every morning to work with her father Frank (Troy Kotsur) and brother Leo (Daniel Durant) on their fishing boat, trying to catch enough to make a living. The family business has been around for a long time, and Ruby’s mother, Jackie (Oscar-winning actress Marlee Matlin), is responsible for doing the books. From there, she goes to school, where she is often mocked by the vapid mean girls, who tease her for smelling like fish or, even more cruelly, for coming from a deaf family.
Ruby’s life is chaotic, and she rarely has a moment to herself because she is always being called upon as the family’s interpreter. On a whim, she decides to sign up for choir, where she is paired with her crush Miles (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, star of 2016’s magical Sing Street). Her tough music teacher Mr. V (Eugenio Derbez), sees a lot of potential in Ruby and suggests she applies for a music school, but only if she can commit to proper training and lessons with him. Ruby knows she is already taking on more than the day may allow but decides to train because she truly loves singing.
“…[Ruby] has to juggle a lot in life, being the only person who can hear in her family.”
Just about every step CODA takes is a familiar beat, but the filmmaker finds such individual moments that ring true for the family we are watching. The Rossi family fights and bickers, and the simplest request or comment can start a war. It’s also clear they are deeply close. Ruby knows her family needs her, and she desperately wants to be there for them, but as she gets older, she realizes she must prioritize what’s best for her and her future. Her family depends on her to be at their side to interpret any situation, but Ruby knows that’s not always going to be feasible.
Jones is the bright, shining star of CODA, but the family dynamic among the entire cast is such a joy to watch. At times, the film is uproariously funny, but each actor delivers genuine, heartfelt scenes when interacting with each other. There is a moment in the final act when everything that felt so trite about the film washes away when Frank is witnessing his daughter growing up before his very eyes. Kotsur’s performance is both clownishly funny and moving as a father who wants the best for his daughter.
There are times when the cynic within will want to sit, arms folded at the screen because every frame of the film feels entirely predictable. Heder infuses the characters and plot with such deep emotion it makes up for its lack of narrative originality. CODA is a giant step for deaf representation on screen, and the beautiful ensemble is the vessel for this story.
CODA screened at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival.
Photos courtesy of Sundance Institute.
"…Jones is the bright, shining star of CODA..."