Sian Heder’s “CODA” (an acronym for “child of deaf adult”) is the sweet and heartfelt 2022 Oscar-winning Best Picture, the story of a deaf fishing family and their non-deaf daughter who has aspirations to be a singer. The film is fast paced and riveting, full of vitality and an affectionate spirit despite its missteps.
Ruby (Emilia Jones) a teenager, works with her deaf dad and brother on a fishing boat. The family interpreter, she always strives to get them the best deal, as the family is faced with a corrupt fish distributor.
At work, Ruby hauls fish to market.
But she is consumed by music. At school Ruby signs up for choir. She is struck by her energetic teacher (Eugenio Derbez). She is overwhelmed at an introductory meeting and runs out, only to sing perfectly out in nature alone. Ruby sings with promise later and the instructor encourages her, acknowledging that Bob Dylan, according to David Bowie, did not sing well.
Ruby confronts her deaf mother (Marlee Matlin) who is dismissive of her singing endeavors.
This is a coming of age story that is unapologetically feel good in its tone and spirit.
All the actors are solid here especially Jones and Troy Kotsur, who was justly awarded best supporting actor. He is the salty dad: playful and serious by turns yet empathetic and very human.
There is one odd moment that might strike the deaf community sour when Ruby interprets for her dad at a doctor’s appointment telling him he has jock itch. Some might bristle given that the medical scene with interpretation is played for bathroom humor.
There is the central dramatic point in the film that Ruby needs to be an interpreter for the family. The Rossi family is adept and modern. To assume that this is the case is patronizing.
Also controversial is the concept of the deaf having a special gift for music across the board and the ability to hear sound through touch, especially the placement of hands on the face. Many in the deaf community find this practice traumatizing and offensive as it was started by those that are hearing.
In terms of performances however, the film has heathy daring and intent. It is terrific that there are actual deaf actors represented here in Kotsub, Matlin and Daniel Durant as Ruby’s brother. The importance of this and the film’s authenticity cannot be overstated.
There are great scenes of Jones and Matlin conversing. Not to mention the moment when Ruby sings to her family.
Yes, it is a tear jerker. But “CODA” is rightly celebrated as a portrait of an authentic deaf and hearing family that weathers the ups and downs of living with humor and heart.
The last moment when Ruby signs “I really love you” as she looks back at her family is now immortalized in cinema history.
Write Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org