By: Bill Cushing – Nov. 2021
AppleTV+ is currently the only streaming service that produces 100% original content. That content, from original series, documentaries, and films, has consistently been of high quality. Their most recent original film, ‘CODA’, is no exception.
Ruby Rossi (Emilia Jones) is in her last year of high school. She doesn’t have much of a plan beyond graduation, because she assumes she’s going to continue as she has been, working with her father and brother on the family fishing boat out of Gloucester, MA. Ruby loves music and loves to sing, but the idea of actually trying to study or explore music seems like an impossible idea, even after her choir teacher, played by Mexican star Eugenio Derbez, sees promise in her and encourages her to apply to Berklee College of Music in Boston. The problem for Ruby is, that this will send her, for the first time, away from home.
“There are lots of lovely voices that have nothing to say,” Ruby’s teacher tells her, almost like a sales pitch. “Do you have something to say?”
As a CODA (Child of Deaf Adults), Ruby is the only hearing person in her deaf family. When the family’s fishing business is threatened, Ruby finds herself torn between pursuing her love of music and her fear of abandoning her parents (Marlee Matlin, Troy Kotsur). The fundamental conflict for Ruby is the disruption it would cause in her family for her to leave. She’s been her parents’ interpreter since she was a child, and she feels responsible for things like making sure her father isn’t cheated when he sells his fish at the end of every day.
Her family will never understand the pull music has for Ruby, but at the heart of ‘CODA’ is the gradual understanding that that doesn’t matter. That you can love someone without being able to understand everything they love. At a key moment in the film, during Ruby’s school concert, the sound drops out, and we experience the event as her parents are — smiling, and clapping along when others do, and looking over the faces of their fellow audience members for a sense of their reactions. Then after the concert we get treated to a total knockout of a scene between Ruby and her father.
‘CODA’ has a terrific cast. Oscar winner Marlee Matlin, as Ruby’s mom, is excellent as always. Troy Kotsur as Frank, Ruby’s raucous dad, is hilarious and heartbreaking. But make no mistake about it, this is Emilia Jones’ movie. This is a star making role for her and should earn her a well-deserved Oscar nomination. Jones, a British actress, had a steep learning curve. She needed to master American Sign Language, speak in an American dialect, and yes, work on a real fishing boat. She clearly already could sing, though.
Directed and written by Sian Heder, ‘CODA’ is closely based on a 2014 French film called La Famille Bélier, but this version has one important quality that the French film didn’t: The deaf characters are played by deaf actors. The film took the Grand Jury Prize for US drama at this year’s Sundance festival and, following a bidding war, sold to Apple for a record $25 million.
This film isn’t just a story of a girl chasing her dream, it’s a film about a hearing person’s relationship to deafness and deaf culture, it’s just as much about deaf characters’ relationships to a hearing world, whose norms most hearing people take for granted, and whose obstacles can impact everything from labor to self-worth. It’s about letting go and letting your loved ones soar.
However you say it or sign it, ‘CODA’ is an emotional powerhouse and one of the year’s best movies.
‘CODA’ is available to stream on AppleTV+.
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