Writer/director Sian Heder has given the world a gem in CODA. Easily landing in my Top 3 films of 2021, this story manages to be completely unique and wholly relatable all at once. CODA‘s title, an acronym for Children of Deaf Adults, has a double entendre hidden in it. Being the only hearing member of her family puts an extraordinary emotional weight on Ruby’s shoulders, as she takes responsibility for interpreting for them. But she’s passionate about music and wishes to pursue it as a career. She feels trapped and obligated to defend her family, which means placing her dreams on the back burner.
There is a reason this cast won Best Ensemble at Sundance. Let’s start with Daniel Durant as older brother Leo. His contempt lies in the idea that Ruby is more valued as the hearing child. Durant’s ability to live in that frustrated state is humbling. Troy Kostur plays Ruby’s father Frank. He’s loose-lipped, crass, and one of the most loving Dads I’ve ever seen on screen. His genuine understanding of his daughter is glorious. Marlee Matlin as Jackie, Ruby’s mom, is surprising in all the right ways. She plays a mother dumbfounded by the idea of Ruby wanting to pursue music. Her nonchalance is spirit-killing for an already wounded Ruby. That role is an entire journey. Finally, Emilia Jones as Ruby brings CODA to life. Her perfect blend of innocence, courage, and openness creates an unforgettable performance. She’s a rising star.
The soundtrack is celebratory and thoughtfully chosen. The cinematography and editing add intimacy. Heder’s carefully crafted script is hilarious and, at times, emotionally consuming. I openly wept for the last 30 mins of the film. CODA is a beautiful coming-of-age family drama that will touch every kind of viewers. Representation is important. CODA allows us to intimately enter the lives of a working-class family, that just happens to be deaf. It tackles ableism, pride, self worth, and everything in between. I’ll be rooting for this film for years to come. It’s a joyous and breathtaking watch.