A crowdpleasing treat with plenty to say, CODA is one of the standout films of the year so far – here’s our review of the movie.
Plenty of familiar ingredients on the surface here. A family of four – father Frank, mother Jackie, son Leo and daughter Ruby – who in this case work together to keep a small family fishing business afloat. Ruby is coming to the age where life is changing for her. The opportunity to pursue a college education and her passion for singing, and the possibility of romance on the horizon.
In this case too, the parents – played wonderfully by Troy Kotsur and Marlee Matlin – are liberal, sex-charged and not averse to assessing their son’s potential Tinder dates over the dinner table. What makes this doubly awkward for Ruby is that she has to do some of the interpreting. The CODA of the title stands for child of deaf adults, and she’s the only one of the four who can properly hear. As such, she acts as interpreter for the family, an emotional tie to them that pulls on the surface in the opposite direction to the opportunities in front of her.
CODA, written and directed by Sian Heder, is a remake of French film La Famille Belier. It’s also a movie that operates firmly within already established rules. If you’ve seen your fair share of high school movies, you’ll know the conventions of the bullies trying to push someone down. Likewise, there’s picking from the cupboard of coming of age films, of against all odds musical stories, and of following ambitions against the pull of family.
At the heart of it all is Ruby, played just wonderfully by Emilia Jones. It’d be wrong to say she carries all of the emotional heft of the film, but we do see the story develop primarily through her eyes. The companion narratives of her growing affection for Ferdia Walsh-Peelo’s Miles (Walsh-Peelo previously led the cast of Sing Street, alongside which CODA deserves mention) and the tensions in her family are beautifully realised, and Jones is sublime. Really, really something.
The family dynamic is explored quite wonderfully too, warts and all. There’s not one of them here I wasn’t rooting for, and Heder deftly blends belly laughs with drama and well-honed musical moments. What I loved particularly too is how she uses sound to demonstrate character perspective. There’s nothing radical in how she does it, you could fairly argue. But heck, is it powerful.
There’s not a main character in this film that I didn’t want to know more about. On the surface, there’s an argument that there’s a television series or novel in this that could explore the stories of each of them in greater depth. But this is one of the reasons I love films so much. That two hour window to set up a story, tell it, and wrap it up. Choosing the moments the matter, be they shared moments between – separately – a daughter and her mother and father, or a look that says more than a line of dialogue, or allowing the emotion to come through the soundscape of the film. It’d be remiss of me to say I could speak to the authenticity of some of the characters and their viewpoints here. What I appreciated is some way to at least get a glimpse.
My heart burst watching CODA. To the point where I wish it came out in an era where a film like this would stand a sporting chance of a word of mouth cinema run. Where it could play on a few screens, build its audience, and become the heartwarming sensation that could get the screenspace it deserves.
It’s not that era. Instead, Apple TV+ has bought this off the back of its debut at the Sundance Film Festival for a record price of $25m. I’m the last person to ask about the financial mechanics of the movie business, but I can’t help but feel Apple has a bargain here.
CODA is magical. I absolutely loved it. I could come up with minor points about it not being the hardest feel to second guess, and maybe if I was in a grumpy mood I could dig up some more little niggles (I certainly see, but disagree with, criticisms of one sub-plot in the movie). But I just don’t want to. I went with it, and was rewarded with a crowd-pleasing, heartwarming joyous treat.
It’s the kind of film that perhaps there’s a tendency to be snobbish towards, but then watch over and over again anyway. If it’s all the same, I’m going to bypass the first part. CODA is a very welcome dose of cinema magic.
CODA is on Apple TV+ from Friday August 13th.
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