Directed by Sian Heder
Starring Emilia Jones, Marlee Matlin, Troy Kotsur, Daniel Durant, Amy Forsyth and Eugenio Derbez.
Ruby (Emilia Jones) works in the family fishing business, balancing her ambitions with commitments closer to home. As a CODA, she bridges the divide for her mother, father and brother between her and the outside world she represents.
Writer-director Sian Heder may not be a household name yet, but that day is coming. Having been involved in Orange Is the New Black, Apple’s Little America and her self-penned first feature Tallulah she has reached a creative tipping point with CODA. First and foremost a family drama, it also trades on that anacronym which stands for children of deaf adults, where a child is raised in an environment with one or more deaf parents. However, such dry definitions diminish the drama on screen, as this close-knit family invites audiences into their world.
One defined by money problems, sibling rivalry and arguments that often hit home harder because of the visual medium of cinema. Oscar-winner Marlee Matlin heads up the Rossi family as Jackie, an ex-beauty queen devoted to her husband Frank. Veteran Troy Kotsur brings a surly paternal presence to their dynamic, displaying an easy chemistry and natural comic timing. These two are the beating heart of a film which aims to celebrate similarities, not dwell on differences in relation to Deaf communities.
Featuring English actress Emilia Jones as Ruby Rossi, in a performance which only gets richer with repeat viewings, CODA feels emotionally honest. As much a rites of passage fable as layered social commentary piece, Sian Heder balances tone and drama throughout. In this film exposition is impossible as words are a rare commodity. Everything is on the face, in the fingers and delivered through gestures that demand your attention.
Issues of disconnection, miscommunication and isolationism are paramount as the Rossi family are separated from others through prejudice and fear. A feeling which goes both ways, as ignorance and assumption keep the lines of communication severed. It is Ruby who exists between them, ridiculed by her peer group and permanently put to work by a family afraid to strike out on their own. It is a dynamic filled with genuine pathos, laced with moments of improvised heartbreak and yet never fails to connect.
Using music from the opening moment, CODA feels passionate and important. Although the aspiring musician plucked from obscurity might have been done before in Little Voice and Whiplash, Eugenio Derbez makes it feel fresh as Mr.V. This is not Michael Caine working an angle or J.K. Simmons metering out tyrannical diatribes in double time. Mr V is a performance filled with humour which compliments that of an actress on solid form. It may follow traditional tropes, but does so from a unique perspective.
Outside of that Daniel Durant and Amy Forsyth deserve a mention as older brother and best friend to Ruby respectively. As Leo, the former is that final definitive puzzle piece which makes this family function. Protective, dismissive and savagely sarcastic in equal measure his relationship with Ruby proves essential. Whereas Amy Forsyth gives Gertie an edge, stealing scenes and subverting expectations throughout.
Others may have accused CODA of manipulating emotions by leaning into tried and tested approaches, but that would be missing the point. This film brings together communities that are so much stronger side by side, than separated by assumptions. That these characters sign with passion rather than shout, or demand attention through dexterity rather than dialogue makes them no different. If audiences walk away with nothing else; let it be that.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
CODA is in cinemas and available through AppleTV+ from August 13th.