Describe This Movie In One "Family Is Family" Lyric:
KACEY MUSGRAVES: They own too much wicker and drink too much liquorBrief Plot Synopsis: High schooler charts own path while dealing with deaf family.
You'd wash your hands of them, but blood's always thicker
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: 4 Perfect Storms out of 5.
Better Tagline: "Enjoy the silence."
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: As a Child Of Deaf Adults, Ruby Rossi (Emilia Jones) is dealing with a lot. Working as an deck hand/interpreter with her fisherman father Frank (Troy Kotsur) and brother Leo (Daniel Durant) and pining for fellow high schooler Miles (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) would be enough to deal with on its own, but now her choir teacher (Eugenio Derbez) thinks she should audition for the Berklee College of Music.
"Critical" Analysis: It should be pointed out that Siân Heder's CODA doesn't breaking a lot of narrative ground. It's a coming-of-age story that explores themes we've seen many times before, but rises above cliché thanks to standout performances and some bold choices by its writer/director.
Adapted from the 2014 French film La Famille Bélier, CODA posits — among other things — that deaf families can be embarrassing too. For example, Frank and wife Jackie (Kotsur and Marlee Matlin are excellent together) are prone to loud sex, oblivious to the presence of others in the house. They also enthusiastically assist Leo on his Tinder swipes.
Heder moves the action from the family farm of the original to a fishing boat (in fackin' Gloucester, no less), but keeps Ruby's frayed relationship with other students who mock her because of her parents. Fortunately, we pivot from that early on and concentrate on family dynamics and Ruby's romantic and musical aspirations.
Derbez's take on the Mr. Chips type is a change from his usual comedic efforts that works, even if his gruff devotion to his charge is never really in doubt. And the tension that arises between Mr. Villalobos and Ruby (he wants to prep her for her audition, she has to assist her family in their fishing co-op venture) never rises to crisis level, however badly Heder may want us to believe otherwise.
Jones brings an affectionate exasperation to Ruby, who's forced to navigate the hearing world for her defiant parents and brother while also enduring the usual teen dilemmas. When she finally attempts to go off on her own for a redemption date with Miles (who committed the cardinal sin of mentioning Ruby's randy parents to a buddy), the inadvertent result is far more serious than she could have imagined.
The resulting conflict between family obligations and her own desires briefly threatens the unity of the Rossi clan, but the outcome is only briefly in doubt. And we don't really care, because it's fascinating to watch a film that communicates a huge chunk of its dialogue (40 percent of the script, according to Heder) in American Sign Language.
Heder goes even further, cutting to silence during Ruby and Miles's solo at the school choir concert in order to give us the family's perspective, and the effect is as profound as it is heartbreaking, as we finally get an idea of what it's like to miss out on a huge part of their daughter/sister's life.
Then again, they also missed that a capella version of Bowie's "Starman," so don't feel too bad for them.
CODA hits a lot of familiar beats, but uses the setting and uniqueness of its characters to great effect. It's a simple story, yet moving and warmly told, and will hopefully expand audiences' understanding of a rarely explored world.
CODA is in theaters and streaming on Apple TV+ today.