“CODA”, a charming coming-of-age movie, took home the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award for best drama at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, one of the largest film festivals in the world. Sundance is known for small, character focused, heartfelt dramas, and “CODA” delivers the goods.
The film centers around Ruby Rossi (Emilia Jones), a high school girl whose parents and brother are deaf. The title of the film actually refers to this. CODA stands for Child of Deaf Adults. Ruby’s father owns a fishing business, and when that business is threatened, she is forced to choose between the needs of her family and her dream of becoming a singer.
What stood out most about the movie were the characters. First off, Ruby is a great lead. Jones has a beautiful voice, but her character is petrified of singing in front of others. This fear understandably comes from her upbringing. The only people she’s ever sang in front of are her family, and since they’re deaf, no one has ever told her if she’s good or not.
The conflict she’s faced with is really compelling. Forcing characters to make an impossible choice is almost always a recipe for a great movie. Her family needs her help as a translator, but Ruby doesn’t want to be stuck on a fishing boat for the rest of her life. It’s also hard for them to understand her desire to be a singer since they can’t hear her.
The supporting cast is also fantastic. Eugenio Derbez is a scene-stealer as Ruby’s boisterous choir teacher who tries to rip her from her shell. These types of teachers are often seen in coming-of-age movies, but his personality does enough to make him feel unique.
Troy Kotsur steals the whole movie as Ruby’s deaf father, Frank. He’s hilarious and has a very powerful scene with Ruby. In fact, her whole family is great. Their relationship and dynamic was so injected with humor and heart that it felt like a real family.
“CODA” does occasionally stray into familiar territory and can be a bit predictable. However, it does enough to distinguish itself from other similar stories mainly by exploring the conflict and humor that comes from being unable to hear. One scene where Ruby’s “boyfriend” is awkwardly introduced to her parents had me in stitches. There are also a couple of amazing scenes where the sound cuts out and puts you in the head of the parents. It gives you a tiny taste of what it would be like to be deaf, similar to “Sound of Metal” (2020).
Ruby’s romantic subplot, on the other hand, did not feel as fresh. It didn’t contribute much to the overall story and just felt unnecessary. It didn’t help that her chemistry with Miles (Ferdia Walsh Peelo) was sorely lacking. I wanted to love it because Walsh-Peelo was fantastic in the criminally underrated “Sing Street” (2016), but sadly, it fell flat.
Everything else worked, though. Writer and director Sian Heder crafted a crowd pleaser that’s hard not to love. It’s a heartwarming, feel-good movie with rich characters and laugh-out-loud moments. The ending comes to a wonderful, tear-jerking crescendo. The cliché “you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll stand up and cheer” might just be true in this case.
There’s no official release date yet, but “CODA” was bought for a record $25 million by Apple and is sure to be released soon on Apple TV Plus. Definitely keep your eyes out for it in the upcoming months. It is well worth your time.