JWR Articles: Film/DVD - CODA (Director: Sian Heder) - April 7, 2022


4.5 4.5
111 min.

Definitely something to say

This year’s surprise winner (especially to Dune fans) the Academy’s Best Picture award, is at times cheesy (notably the love story), predictable (how will the audition go),  but an immensely important film for the vast majority of us who take hearing for granted, much less interact or walk in the shoes of the Deaf, deafened hard of hearing community.

Imagine living in a family where both of your parents and elder brother are Deaf, de facto, you are the de facto spokesperson/ASL interpreter to everyone in the outside world. Ironically, imagine your good “ear” promises to blossom into the life of  professional singer. The narrative opportunities are as varied as the challenges in presenting the story in a believable fashion. Based on the 2014 film La Famille Bélier (directed by Éric Lartigau), setting moves from France to Massachusetts and the family business from farming to fishing, but much to rest of it remains intact. Director Sian Heder also wrote the screenplay.

At the centre of it all, Ruby tries to hold the family together, graduate from high school (college is just a fantasy as the film opens), put up with taunts from here classmates about those with disabilities and pull—literally at times—more than her own wait on the family’s trawler. Emilia Jones is the epitome of her character, Ruby. By turn determined, frustrated, buoyant, mischievous, accepting, it’s a performance that holds the production together, letting the rest of the cast bounce off her lead with style and conviction.

Also most deriving of Best Supporting Actor, Troy Kotsur as the flatulent dad, Frank (leading to a great joke about the difference between smell and sound!), most certainly lets his fingers (and marvellously reinforcing facial expressions) do the talking. It falls to Ruby to censor the most ribald bits when interpreting his thoughts to others. Mom Jackie (Marlee Matin) tries to be the voice of caution as the family ponders whether to go in business for themselves or be taken advantage of by their greedy catch buyer. Wanting to get laid but also not afraid to make his point with fists to anyone who mocks him, Daniel Durant is a worthy advocate for angry young man, Leo. All three actors are Deaf, giving their performances a ring of truth that “crip” actors never could. It’s a welcome, growing phenomenon (cross-reference below) that casting those who “live the life” rather than those who can only pretend to. Cheers to more.

For balance, there is humour (Bernardo Villalobos is a lavender hoot as Ruby’s vocal coach, Mr. V—his choir rehearsal scenes also have much in common with Les Choristes) and budding love. As hopeful-singer-No. 2 Miles, Ferdia Walsh Peelo gamely goes through machinations of his feelings towards Ruby. There’s a cinematically resplendent payoff when reconciliation and first kiss is achieved jumping off a cliff.

Easily the best moment of this wide-ranging tale of sound and not, occurs at Ruby’s audition. Gaining confidence with every measure of “Both Sides Now” (with only three stern judges from Berklee music school) and her family looking on from the balcony), the music suddenly stops, allowing everyone to appreciate what is seen but never heard. The icing on that dramatic cake comes when Ruby spontaneously signs the lyrics as she sings them, so that those she loves most will understand.

Indeed, CODA (Child of Deaf Adults) is both sides now. It ought to become required viewing for those who look down or away from the different amongst us.

And what a shame that the “slap heard around the world” on Oscar night will be remembered far more than this wonderful film. JWR

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Director - Sian Heder
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purchase information, production sponsors:
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
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