Review by Amanda Gilmore for Mr. Will Wong
17-year-old Ruby Rossi (Emilia Jones) is a CODA, which stands for Child of Deaf Adults. She has spent her entire life interpreting for her parents (Marlee Matlin and Troy Kotsur) and brother (Daniel Durant). When she joins her high-school choir club, her passion for singing grows deeper. When choirmaster Bernardo (Eugenio Derbez) takes a special interest in her talents, he offers to help get her into the Berkley College of Music. Now Ruby must choose between pursuing her dreams or stay in the fishing town to help her family and their business.
Director-Writer Siân Heder has created a heartwarming film that pulls at heartstrings while making us laugh. Heder’s decision to cast deaf actors creates authenticity and vibrancy into this touching narrative. The Film is more than just a coming-of-age story. It’s also about fishing villages and the struggles those families face. This storyline is examined even deeper through the Rossi family who faces more obstacles than others.
Heder’s Script is funny, honest and full of touching moments that bring the audience into the emotions of a deaf family. Scenes, where the Rossis are conversing over dinner or arguing in their living room, are delightful. Heder also has something to say about how the world looks at the deaf community. Many scenes express the frustration of not being able to communicate with those in the town. However, there are steps society can take to make the world an inclusive place for the deaf community. Heder shows this in a powerful scene near the end when Ruby signs a song she’s singing, to her family.
Heder uses the camera and sound to bring audiences right into the life of this family. In the beginning, we are viewing the world through Ruby’s eyes. Everyday sounds that are common to us sound louder because her family doesn’t realize the noise they’re making. Then during scenes where we switch into the viewpoint of the family members, we are brought into silence. This powerful use of sound expertly brings us into the experiences of all members of the family.
At the centre of this Film is the breakout performance from Jones. She embodies the passion Ruby has for singing while showing her obligation to her family. And when she sings, we get goosebumps and chills throughout the body. Matlin and Kotsur give comedic and grounded performances as her parents, Jackie and Frank. They show the fear for losing their daughter while also wanting her to achieve her dream. And Derbez is brilliant as the free-spirit yet stern choirmaster Bernardo.
Overall, CODA is a moving film with outstanding performances from the entire cast. A must-see.
CODA screens at Sundance:
Live Premiere: January 28 at 8 PM (EST)
On-Demand (available for 24 hours): January 30 at 10 AM (EST)