MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
CODA - In Theaters, Streaming on Apple TV+
Directed by Sian Heder
Starring Emilia Jones, Marlee Matlin
When I first saw the music-filled trailer for CODA, I thought the title was referring to the musical notation that returns you to the end of a song. What it really means – and why CODA is in all caps – is a Child of Deaf Adults.
That’s Ruby Rossi’s (Jones) story. She is the younger daughter in a family of four and the only one who is able to hear and speak. Her family are commercial fishermen in Gloucester, Massachusetts, and Ruby puts in a long early morning’s work before going off to high school. We learn that years ago, before Ruby mastered talking, her speech was slurred, similar to what she heard from her parents and older brother. She was teased and bullied then and there are classmates who belittle her now, not only for her deaf family but for her working-class status.
Things are about to change for Ruby. She decides to try out for the high school choir after seeing that Miles (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo), a guy she has a crush on, is signed up to sing. Ruby initially freezes up during her audition but returns later to the office of Mr. Bernardo Villalobos (Eugenio Derbez) to audition in private. He encourages her to develop her gift and aim for the stars – attending the Berklee College of Music in Boston.
Things are getting complicated with the fishing business, though, and Ruby knows that college costs are high and she is needed to help out.
Will she be able to live out her dream? Will Miles notice her and be her friend? Will her family make room for her life’s possibilities? I think you will be able to guess the answers to all of these questions but you will be entertained by a talented and gifted cast.
Ruby’s mother Jackie is played by Marlee Matlin, a wonderful actress who won an Academy Award in 1987 for Children of a Lesser God. Troy Kotsur and Daniel Durant (also deaf) play Ruby’s father Frank and brother Leo. The family scenes are filled with love and warmth and the fishing scenes are down-to-earth and authentic.
This feelgood film won the Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. It’s a crowd-pleasing movie, for sure.
Unfortunately, CODA hits a few too many false notes. I am a big fan of Eugenio Derbez and enjoy him whenever he pops up in a film, but I cannot begin to understand how he teaches music. Mr. V is a mashup of Mr. Holland (Mr. Holland’s Opus) and Harold Hill (The Music Man), with a teaching style that’s quirky and a school choir that has watched too many episodes of Glee.
I was looking forward to a film that featured deaf actors, but the Rossi family would create problems with or without auditory challenges. Ruby comes to school straight from work, smelling of fish. Mom and Dad can’t keep their hands off of each other and they enjoy frisky sex whenever possible. This movie is a remake of La Famille Bélier, a 2014 French comedy, and the sex jokes were part of that story. I highly suggest that parents with middle-school age children preview the movie before watching it at home.
CODA is as enjoyable and as easy to listen to as a pop song. It has a good heart, a good beat, and you can dance to it. If that sounds like your groove, come to the party.
Halo and Pitchfork Rating:
Three halos: A big-hearted if predictable coming-of-age story with good performances by all.
Two pitchforks: An abundance of sex jokes, sex talk, and sex acts; bullying; drinking and marijuana smoking.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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