4 out of 5 Stars
Director: Sian Heder
Writer: Sian Heder
Starring: Emilia Jones, Marlee Matlin, Troy Kostur, Daniel Durant
Rated: PG-13 for strong sexual content and language, and drug use
SALT LAKE CITY (KUTV) – Synopsis: Ruby, a Child of Deaf Adults, is torn between pursuing her dreams of becoming a singer and helping her family with their small fishing business.
Review: For her whole life, Ruby (Emilia Jones), a hearing teen in a Deaf family, has been a bridge to the hearing world for her parents (Marlee Matlin, Troy Kostur) and brother (Daniel Durant). Working as independent fishermen, her family ekes out a living. Their deafness distances them from their peers. Ruby has discovered boys and a crush leads her into her high school’s choir. She loves singing and has a natural talent for it. But her dream of pursuing music at college would mean leaving her family to make their way mostly without her.
“CODA” was a hit with audiences at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. It was one of those films that, even though we were all attending virtually, was constantly being talked about. I knew little to nothing about it other than the photo of Emilia Jones on a fishing boat that Sundance provided for media to use. I was interested but knew it would be picked up by someone and I’d be able to see it further down the road.
What I didn’t know was that “CODA” is an incredibly special coming-of-age film. We see Ruby in many familiar situations. Being torn between who you feel you are and who your family needs you to be is a universal experience. What sets “CODA” apart is that it places the audience in the middle of a Deaf family. We see their humor, their struggles, and their love for each other. We’re allowed to laugh with them. We’re thankfully not laughing at their expense.
Jones is fantastic as Ruby. She serves as our window and, while the situation she has grown up in makes her more mature in certain ways, she’s still very much a teenager driven by impulse. She doesn’t always see the big picture. She shouldn’t be expected to.
The relationship between Ruby’s parents, Jackie and Frank, is built on a still-smoldering passion and a sense of humor. They might be the most realistic and functional couple that you’ll see in a film this year. Their world is hard. Their work is hard. Being deaf is only a small part of the equation.
Ruby’s relationship with her brother Leo is revealing. She loves him and wants to protect him from the cruelties of the world, but Leo sees this as Ruby limiting his ability to be an adult. He wants independence. Given time, he and his parents will also want to give Ruby the space to explore herself, the space to discover what makes her happy and what makes her Ruby.
I vividly remember being 10 years old and watching Marlee Matlin win an Oscar for her performance in “Children of a Lesser God.” This moment would help me to define how I would see the Deaf throughout my life. I thought that the Academy Awards were the top of the world. If she could win one, then she and the Deaf community could do just about anything. This film reinforces that belief.
I love this movie.
Note on my "CODA" interviews: Typically I try to edit myself out of the interview as much as possible. Sometimes, my questions meander or I say something stupid and unimportant. With these interviews, the very nature of them makes editing myself out less of an option, particularly because I want to keep the language interpreter on screen. Please forgive my awkwardness. I'm so incredibly thankful that I was given the opportunity.