Written and Directed by Siân Heder
Starring Emilia Jones, Marlee Matlin, Troy Kotsur, Daniel Durant
Being a teenager is a time of growth and independence, a time of true friendships and self-discovery.
But life during our teen years can be difficult. We want independence. We feel grown up and are beginning to make future life decisions while the law still considers us children.
Writer/director Siân Heder’s film “CODA”, (Child of Deaf Adults), finds seventeen-year-old Ruby Rossi (a great Emilia Jones) struggling through the latter half of her life as a teenager.
Amongst her family, Ruby is the only one who can hear. Her parents (the wonderful Marlee Matlin and Troy Kotsur) are both deaf, as is her older brother (Daniel Durant).
Ruby has a deep love of music and wants to pursue it, living out a long-desired dream.
The Rossi family are close and there are many naturalistic scenes of them interacting with one another. These moments solidify the connection this family shares and are enhanced by the lived-in feel the actors give to their characters.
Ruby has a good life but not the normal, seemingly carefree existence that her friends enjoy beyond school.
Although she is quite the standout in her school choir and a great student in general, most of Ruby’s spare time is spent working on her family’s Gloucester, Massachusetts fishing boat. Her days start early and last too long.
Ruby is a strong soul regarding her family and her life goals, but still a bit awkward around her peers. Understandably, she wants to enjoy the last moments that remain in her childhood, but life guides her where it must. Ruby is the sole interpreter for her family; their “captain” in navigating the hearing world, but there are important connections in her life that exist outside of her family.
She becomes enamored with classmate Miles (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo). The two actors create a refreshingly organic and believable chemistry and their scenes together are seasoned with a natural sweetness.
Ruby also develops a bond with her music teacher Bernardo (Eugenio Derbez), who sees some real talent in his student. He wants to ready her to audition at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Bernardo is a kind soul, and it says something about the honesty of Ruby’s character that she attracts good people such as Miles and Bernardo.
Heder’s film is a coming-of-age drama that focuses on how family shapes a young person’s outlook on their future. While a film like this certainly has some unavoidable clichés, the director and her unquestionably strong cast earn the film’s feel-good moments and the scenes of family drama ring true.
Heder’s screenplay crafts Ruby’s family as strong personalities and does not manipulate the audience into feeling sorry for them due to their disability. Each character is imbued with a supreme credibility.
Marlee Matlin reminds us why she deserved her Oscar for 1986’s moving film, “Children of a Lesser God.” This is the best role the actress has been gifted since that great work and Matlin is strong in her performance. Perhaps there could be another nomination waiting for her in 2022. Let us hope the Academy is paying attention.
While there is an inherent “spread my wings and fly” element to the Ruby Rossi character, Emilia Jones grounds her performance, ensuring there aren’t any missteps nor false emotions. It is wonderful work from this young actress, and I look forward to seeing more from her in the future.
The deaf community is criminally underrepresented in cinema. Heder’s film deals realistically with a family who works and exists within a community that has no interest in learning their language, hence the dependence on Ruby.
“CODA” is an engaging and accomplished film that brings together a full range of human emotions with a sweet and caring hand.
I hope this film will open new doors and show Hollywood that deaf actors have a voice in cinema.
R, 111 Minutes, An Apple Original Film, Pathé Films,Vendome Pictures