CODA Review – Heartwarming, A Feel-Good Film

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CODA, from APPLETV+, presents the story of life for a hearing child of deaf adults, as she navigates her own struggles trying to find her place in the world, and the ingrained obligations for her family.

The film begins on a fishing boat, as a girl is singing the Etta James tune "Something's Got Ahold on Me." We hear her and realize immediately she has talent. She is on board the fishing trawler with two others. We see they are deaf, and very familiar. It takes a moment before we realize they are family.

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As soon as the boat docks, she heads to school. By end of day, we understand more about Ruby, played by Emilia Jones. At 17, she is the sole hearing member of a deaf family – a CODA, child of deaf adults. She works with her family's fishing business, feels awkward, and embarrassed because of her family.

We understand her discomfort as she as acted as interpreter for her parents Jacki, played by Marlee Matlin and Frank, played by Troy Kotsur, her entire life and today, they are at the doctor, and she is forced to explain to the doctor her father's genital rash and explain to him that he and her mother must refrain from sex. She is extremely uncomfortable and the is palpable.

Everywhere Ruby feels like an outsider, in her home, she is the only hearing child, her older brother Leo, played by Daniel Durant is also deaf, at school she is a working-student and there is no one who doesn't know her family is deaf. She is surrounded by cruel teenage girls.

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Her routine is up at 3:00am to work on the family's struggling fishing boat every day before school. And today, she and her best friend, Gertie, played by Amy Forsyth (a Spirit nominee for The Novice), are deciding on extra curriculars when she see the object of her affection, Miles, played by Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, sign up for choir.

With determination she joins her high school's choir club. On day one the students meet the enthusiastic, tough-love choirmaster Bernardo Villalobes, played by Eugenio Derbez, who is more than simply an over-the-top character, he genuinely understands music and knows talent. During the voice placement exercise Ruby becomes overwhelmed with fear of judgement and she runs from the room.

Soon she discovers she has more than just a gift for singing, she has real talent, the kind of talent that can change lives. Suddenly she is more than the hearing daughter and the child of deaf parents. Villalobes presses her to apply to Berklee Music School in Boston. As the auditions get closer it seems like her family needs her more than she needs her dreams.

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CODA is a heartwarming, feel good, film. A winning ensemble of actors bring to the mainstream challenges that many never encounter and deliver uplifting, touching and emotional character driven performances. With a solid soundtrack filled with R&B and soul tunes, we suddenly begin to empathize at the end, as we are, for a moment placed in the world of the hearing challenged, unable to hear anything from an emergency siren to the sounds of your daughter who is bringing down the house.

A Sundance Film Festival Winner, Film Independent Spirit Award voters nominated Troy Kotsur for Best Supporting Actor.

CODA is streaming on Apple TV+. See it. 

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Country: USA.

Language: English, American Sign Language.

Runtime: 111minutes.

Director: Sian Heder.

Writer: Sian Heder.

Producer: Philippe Rousselet, Jerome Seydoux, Patrick Wachsberger, Fabrice Gianfermi.

Cast: Emilia Jones, Marlee Matlin, Troy Kotsur, Daniel Durant, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Eugenio Derbez, Amy Forsyth.

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