CODA – Review by Susan Wloszczyna

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CODA is a coming-of-age story with a twist, given that its title stands for a “child of deaf adults.” Set in Gloucester, Massachusetts, this crowd-pleaser offers plenty of emotional and humorous bait as we meet 17-year-old Ruby (Emilia Jones), her non-hearing parents (Marlee Matlin and Daniel Durant, a sweetly salty pair) and hunky deaf brother (Troy Kotsur). Alas, our heroine is not so keen on her school work, partly because she is required to be an interpreter for her loved ones as well as an early-rising participant in the family fishing business.

But when we hear Ruby soulfully belt out the Etta James classic, Something’s Got a Hold on Me that plays on the radio unheeded by her family as they tend to their catch of the day, you can tell she has an innate gift. That leads her to try out for her school’s chorus, where she eventually impresses the choirmaster, played by Mexican comic Eugenio Derbez, who puts his usual farcical antics aside as his Mr. V. focuses on Ruby and her shy male counterpart Miles (played by Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, the Irish charmer from 2016’s Sing Street). While the pair are initially uneasy about practicing their assigned concert duet, the Motown classic You’re All I Need to Get By, the twosome eventually get in sync when they build up the nerve to jump into a lake together and eventually share a kiss.

Meanwhile, ripples of Dirty Dancing and Fame bob by while Ruby’s parents try to fend off restrictions that cut into the profits of their fishing sales. Meanwhile, their daughter is torn between chasing her dream of auditioning for the Boston’s Berklee College of Music and continuing to speak for her parents. When they see her perform with the choir – and the reaction from the audience – they realize the emotional effect that that she has on the crowd.

But writer-director Sian Heder saves the best for last as Ruby performs Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now. With Mr. V accompanying her on piano and her parents in attendance, she sings and signs the lyrics, allowing her parents to feel the power of the song. At this point, a pile of tissues nearby would be advisable.

Based on the 2014 French-language film La Famille Belier, which takes place on a rural dairy farm, Heder wisely decided to switch to the coastal region of Massachusetts, where she spent her summers growing up. Her choice injects an earthy and personal authenticity to what happens on the screen. Also give her props for hiring deaf actors and including others in the deaf community on her set.

Matlin, as always, is a joy to watch. But if there is a MVP in this Sundance Film Festival breakout hit and trophy winner, it clearly is the English-born Jones, who took singing lessons and learned American Sign Language over nine months before filming began. And whoever decided that her down-to-earth character would naturally wear tomboyish flannel shirts, overalls and sweatshirts while eschewing makeup and a fancy hairdo deserves their own prize.

EDITOR’S NOTE:CODA is AWFJ’s Movie of the Week for August 13, 2021.

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Susan Wloszczyna

In her nearly 30 years at USA Today, Susan Wloszczyna interviewed everyone from Vincent Price and Shirley Temple to Julia Roberts and Will Smith. Her coverage specialties include animation, musicals, comedies and any film starring Hayley Mills, Sandy Dennis or hobbits. Her crowning career achievements so far, besides having Terence Stamp place his bare feet in her lap during an interview for The Limey, is convincing the paper to send her to New Zealand twice for set visits, once for The Return of the King and the other for The Chronicles of Narnia and King Kong, and getting to be a zombie extra and interview George Romero in makeup on the set for Land of the Dead. Though not impressive enough for Pulitzer consideration, she also can be blamed for coining the moniker "Frat Pack," often used to describe the comedy clique that includes Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Will Ferrell. Her positions have included Life section copy desk chief for four years and a film reviewer for 12 years. She is currently a contributor for the online awards site Gold Derby and is an Oscar expert for Previously, she has been a freelance film reporter and critic, contributing regularly to, MPAA’s The Credits, the Washington Post, AARP The Magazine online and Indiewire as well as being a book reviewer for The Buffalo News. She previously worked as a feature editor at the Niagara Gazette in Niagara Falls, N.Y. A Buffalo native, she earned her bachelor's degree in English at Canisius College and a master's degree in journalism from Syracuse University.