Released: 13th August 2021
Seen: 12th March 2022
When it comes to the history of film, one of the groups that has been heavily underrepresented is the deaf community. When stories about them have been told, often the deaf character is played by a non-deaf actor who isn’t even part of the community but recently we’ve seen that change and be openly praised. Films like A Quiet Place featured Millicent Simmonds who is a young deaf actress and Sound of Metal had Paul Raci, the hearing child of deaf adults.
Now, speaking of Children of Deaf Adults, we have CODA which is a heartwarming dramedy about a deaf family with a hearing daughter who can also sing and it’s up for 3 Oscars this year… which is the only reason I would dare use Apple Plus to see it because damn that site will always annoy me.
CODA tells the story of the Rossi family, focusing mainly on Ruby Rossi (Emilia Jones) who is the only hearing member of her family. Because of this, she is constantly having to translate for, and work on the family fishing boat with, her father Frank (Troy Kotsur) and brother Leo (Daniel Durant) who manage the ship while her mother Jackie (Marlee Matlin) handles the household.
One day Ruby tries out for the school choir where she realises she actually has a pretty great singing voice, good enough that she might even be able to get into Berklee College of Music and so she starts preparing for it, which in turn means she’s unable to help out her family. As CODA goes on, Ruby is forced to choose between her dreams and her family while her family tries to figure out how they can keep afloat when the world seems to be throwing a barrier like this in their way.
From start to finish, CODA might be one of the more charming little films to be in awards contention this year. It’s just a good, sweet family dramedy with an incredibly loveable main cast of characters and a story that’s simple but effective. Its simple story really allows the cast the chance to shine and elevate the material (which is already genuinely pretty great) into something special. There’s real heart here, a warmth that emanates through every frame of CODA. You want a film that could be used as a quick definition of heartwarming? Here you go, this is that film, a film that’s impossible to dislike because it is just so sweet.
There are so many glorious little touches that CODA does, from hiding what certain pieces of sign language mean from those who don’t understand it in order to set up a joke or the moments when they just cut the sound out completely to put us in the headspace of the Rossi family. While the film making itself is very standard (well done, but it’s standard framing and editing), these little moments help us really connect with this family on another level beyond what we would from just the performances alone.
Indeed, it’s the performances from the cast of CODA that just turn this film from something great into something truly special. It’s the poster child for why you should cast deaf actors in deaf roles because there’s a reality and a sincerity to every one of the performances from the Rossi family, particularly Troy Kotsur who practically steals the entire film from his spot as the grizzly dad just trying to get by who is set in his ways. It’s the kind of performance that you finish watching and then mentally prepare for his Oscar speech. Same with Marlee Matlin, who frankly should’ve also been nominated, she gets to prove why she’s one of the greats and delivers a glorious comedic performance.
It’s also just impossible to ignore the hilarious and fun banter between the brother-sister combo of Ruby and Leo. Daniel Durant in particular has ‘Future leading man” written all over him and it’s stunning he’s managed to fly under the radar for so many years when there is just something about him that demands he be the lead in something, someone get on giving him a vehicle. And one for Emilia Jones while we’re at it because she really does hold the film together and does the delicate dance of being the core of the story but knowing just when to pull back to let the other actors have their shining moment.
CODA is something special, a heartwarming family affair with a fantastic cast that delivers on the laughs and the representation. It shows just what kinds of stories can be told when you let deaf actors shine in a work of art because this film really just fills the heart with endless joy that can only come from a cast made up of people dedicated to making something special. An absolute undeniable must see film.