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CODA Review – Where An Entire Family Comes of Age

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Let me go
I don’t wanna be your hero
I don’t wanna be a big man
Just wanna fight like everyone else

Your masquerade
I don’t wanna be a part of your parade
Everyone deserves a chance to
Walk with everyone else

These lyrics from the song called ‘Hero’ by Family of the Year played in my head as I watched the 2021 film CODA on TV. Directed by Sian Heder, CODA (Child of Deaf Adults) is about teen Ruby, the only hearing member of her family in a coastal fishing town. Her family is surprised and confused when they learn she wants to study music at Julliard. Because Ruby’s dream of going away to college clashes with her family’s new fishing enterprise, as they need her around to help them out. So it’s like a coming-of-age tale of an entire family, it’s not just Ruby who needs to start experiencing life without her pack, her parents and older brother need to stop leaning on her too. They all have to let go a little.

Emilia Jones as Ruby Rossi, the shy school outcast torn between her family and her new found confidence in singing, packs a poignant performance. Quite frankly, I watched this film after reading an online article about how the the cast playing the deaf family are deaf in real life too. “Deafness is not a costume you can put on,” director Sian Heder told BBC in an interview, revealing how she wanted to cast deaf actors in the roles, unlike the 2014 French film (‘The Bélier Family’) on which it is based on. In the French version, the actors playing the protagonist’s parents were hearing individuals. And that’s where CODA really stands out – in its inclusive & incredible cast.

Marlee Matlin and Troy Kotsur as Jackie and Frank Rossi make an absolutely fun pair onscreen – two madly in love individuals, who have no clue on just how loud they are when they are going at it. Kotsur gets a lot more screen-time as the bread-winner of the family and deservedly so. His character is all sorts of fun shades – varying between ‘couldn’t give a fuck about anything’ to a giant softie who understands what’s best for his little girl. There’s a beautiful father-daughter scene towards the climax that gave me goosebumps. It’s easily one of the best cinematic scenes of filial love portrayed onscreen in the recent past.

While the movie is not based on a real life story, it has a very interesting take on how difficult it is for deaf parents to understand their daughter’s love for singing. “What if she is no good?” they wonder, because it’s something they can never judge for themselves. Sian Heder also weaves in an intriguing parallel story of the Rossi family’s fishing trade and the new regulations they have to grapple with. The sub-plot that gets a little more attention than necessary is Ruby’s infatuation with a boy at school, but it will probably appeal to a lot of younger viewers, since it serves as a romantic break between the family drama.

At points it feels like the Rossis are shown to be a little more dependent on their daughter as an interpreter than most hearing impaired individuals are. A relative who is deaf lived with us for a few years and even though we don’t even have a standardized sign language in India, she got on just fine. It’s not like one can have an interpreter at their disposal 24*7. Nevertheless, the film tells a story that’s worth the viewer’s time.

Overall, CODA is entertaining, peppered with quick laughs, great cinematography and beautiful performances. It’s a 8/10 from me. The film is streaming on Apple TV.

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