“CODA” is a solid crowd-pleaser which has its big heart in the right place. Based on French film “La Famille Bélier” (2014), the movie gives us a sensitive and heartwarming tale of one musically talented girl and her culturally deaf family, and it is actually a bit better than the original version as handling its story and characters with more sensitivity and thoughtfulness. Because I already watched the original version, I was well aware of how it was going to pull some heartstrings inside me, but it engaged me more than expected thanks to its good storytelling and the commendable efforts from its main cast members, and it really earns those several big emotional moments around the end of its story.
At first, the movie establishes the daily life of a teenage girl named Ruby Rossi (Emilia Jones) and her culturally deaf family living in a small seaside town of Massachusetts. For many years, her parents Frank (Troy Kotsur) and Jackie (Marlee Maltin) have earned their living via their small fishing business, and Ruby and her older brother Leo (Daniel Durant) have been quite accustomed to helping their father on his fishing boat. Because of their disability, Frank and Leo often depend a lot on Ruby during their working time, and Ruby, who is the only non-deaf person in her family, has no problem at all with functioning as a bridge between her family and the outside world.
Once she graduates from her high school several months later, Ruby is supposedly going to help her family business more, but there comes a new possibility for her life when she is about to start her last year at a local high school along with many other schoolmates including her best friend Gertie (Amy Forsyth). When they are looking for any suitable extracurricular activity for them, Ruby chooses to join the school choir just because of her longtime interest and passion toward music, and what do you know, she turns out to be a very good singer with considerable potential. That is soon noticed by her rather eccentric music teacher, who is very willing to encourage and train her more for her possible enrollment in some prestigious music college in Boston.
The teacher later pairs Ruby with a male student named Miles (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) for their duo performance, and she and Miles soon find themselves attracted to each other as spending more time together. At one point, she takes him to her family house, and it looks like they can get a bit closer to each other than before as they share their common passion on music, but then there comes an amusingly embarrassing moment thanks to Ruby’s parents, who are quite frank (and loud) about a certain aspect of their healthy private life.
As she hones her musical talent more under her music teacher, Ruby becomes more eager to go to that music college in Boston, but she also becomes more conflicted about whether she can actually leave her family. As the local economic situation have become hard and difficult for him and many other fishermen in the town due to many obstacles including a new regulation involved with monitoring their work process, Frank decides to take a big business risk, and that naturally means he and his deaf family members are going to need Ruby more than before. As a girl who cares a lot about her family, Ruby tries to balance herself between her passion and her family, but that turns out to be more difficult than expected, and she will have to make a big choice on her future sooner or later.
What will eventually happen between Ruby and her family will not surprise you that much, the screenplay by director/writer Sian Heder, who previously made a feature film debut with Netflix film “Tallulah” (2015), holds our attention more as steadily developing the story and characters via small but enjoyable moments. While Ruby comes to us a smart and plucky lass for whom we come to root a lot along the story, her relationships with her deaf family members are depicted with loving care and details, and the movie also lets us empathize more with her deaf family members during several crucial scenes including the one where the soundtrack is appropriately switched off for giving us some more understanding on their soundless condition.
Above all, the movie is enlivened a lot by its wonderful main cast members, who incidentally received the Special Jury Ensemble Cast Award when the movie was premiered at the Sundance Film Festival early in this year (It also received the US Grand Jury Prize, the US Dramatic Audience Award, and the US Dramatic Best Director Award for Heder in addition to being subsequently acquired for a festival-record $25 million by Apple, which released the film in US a few weeks ago). While Emilia Jones, a young talented British actress who may impress us more in the future, holds the center well via her charming lead performance, Troy Kostur, Marlee Martin, and Daniel Durant bring considerable authenticity and dignity to their respective characters as real deaf performers, and Martin, who won the Best Actress Oscar for her memorable performance in “Children of a Lesser God” (1986) and Kostur steal the show at every moment of theirs in the film.
In case of the other main cast members in the film, they bring some life and personality to their supporting roles while dutifully holding their spots around the fringe of the story. While Eugenio Derbez is somehow endearing despite his character’s broadly comic demeanors, Ferida Walsh-Peelo click well with Jones in several intimate scenes between them, and Amy Forsyth deserves to be mentioned for imbuing her functional role with enough sense of life.
In conclusion, “CODA”, whose title is the acronym of “Child of Deaf Adults”, is an exemplary case of remake, and I will not be surprised if audiences and critics keep talking about it during the upcoming Oscar season. In my humble opinion, there have already been several other better films including Oscar-nominated German film “Beyond Silence” (1996), but it is a fairly good film nonetheless besides being an improvement over the original French film, and I sincerely hope that it will bring more public awareness of those culturally deaf people out there.
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