CODA – Review

Still from CODA. Courtesy of Apple TV.

CODA (Child of Deaf Adults) takes the American coming-of-age story, hits all the familiar beats, but gives it an irresistible original twist and plenty of charm, producing one the best releases I have seen this year. Adapted from the 2014 foreign language feature, La Famille Bélier and directed and written by Sian Heder, CODA brims with emotion and boasts an excellent ensemble performance, resulting in what may be the feel-good film of the year. 

Emilia Jones plays Ruby Rossi. Ruby wakes up at 3am every morning to help with the family fishing business. Her parents and brother are deaf, resulting in Ruby acting as a median between the deaf world and the hearing world. Conflict arises however, when Ruby realises her role as family translator conflicts with her need to grow as an individual and the pursuit of her passion, music. Jones’ leading performance is impressive, requiring her not only to learn sign-language and how to operate a fishing trawler (feats which reportedly took 9 months) but also convincingly convey the emotions of a young woman’s struggle to break away into adulthood. Credit must also be given to Eugenio Derbez, who plays Bernardo Villalobos (remember to roll the r’s), Ruby’s high school music teacher. Derbez is a scene-stealer as the frighteningly exhilarating Villalobos, a Berklee Music alumnus, who whilst may not have made promise on his own dreams, finds purpose in unlocking the gateway for others. Villalobos provides one of many sparks in Heder’s screenplay, enabling Ruby to come out of her shell and gain the confidence to pursue her passion. Perhaps Villalobos is at times underutilised in the screenplay, nonetheless Derbez makes most of every scene he’s in. Come awards season, it would be a shame if he were not recognised for his excellent supporting performance.

The familiarity of CODAs coming of age story for some, will be hard to overlook. It is true that the film falls within the realm of conventionality, but Heder’s screenplay possesses enough originality, charm and sharp dialogue to warrant overlooking said criticism. It cannot be denied however that this was a smart acquisition for Apple TV+. Apple broke records (as of 2021), reportedly paying $25 million for the distribution rights for CODA. It goes without saying that the film is a warm welcome to their streaming platform and ever-growing library of original programming. Now all Apple need to figure out is how to acquire paying customers. You can’t give out 1 year-free offers forever, someone has to pay Jennifer Aniston’s and Reese Witherspoon’s salary for The Morning Show.

Praise must also be given to Marius De Vries music, which is pivotal to the film’s success. Without it, the narrative would lose its glowing charm. Pay particular attention to the use of You’re All I Need to Get By, which acts as an emotional anchor for the narrative throughout the 111-minute running time. It’s a song that’s poignant through the way it resonates with the motifs of relationships and communication, both which are crucial to Heder’s film.So, after conquering the 2021 Sundance Film Festival and opening Apple’s deep pockets, it would only be fair to say that CODA is a resounding success, in many ways a bright flicker of light at the end of the tunnel. On one level it’s a coming-of-age story but at its core, it’s about the difficulties of communication and how the universal language of humanity, always triumphs.

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